In his review of recent books by Bernard Rollin and Mary Midgley (Chronicles, August 1985), Jay Mechling astutely presents some of the strengths and weaknesses in the current debate over animal rights. Thus Mary Midgley’s case for kinship and moral community in preference to the. inbuilt limitations of the utilitarian standpoint presents as not merely philosophically sound, but as in tune with today’s rapidly growing feeling for a more holistic world pattern that is not only human but humane.

As Stephen Clark’s untypically subdued essay points out, conservationists tend to be shy of using any but “economic” arguments, fearing that appeal to rational greed catches more votes than trading in the emotions. But then greed counts for most in nearly every situation. Perhaps the ugliest manifestation of the human spirit is our self-satisfaction; the most alarming, our inability to feel a concern with the world’s future beyond our own lifetimes.

Timely and stimulating though I find your forum (“The Natural Man”), it leaves a predominantly “speciesist” (coined by Richard D. Ryder) flavor in the mouth. It demands acceptance that man was “given” dominion over the earth, ensuring that however stoutly your contributors may strike out toward a more compassionate concept of our relationships with nonhuman species, in the end we must return to an Old Testament creator issuing a blank check to only one of “His” species. Ergo, we have free will and may do what we wish with our environment, subject only to mankind’s right to question our behavior.

This premise leads inevitably to non sequiturs, and the case for animal rights is surely too strong to be demolished by such means. Tibor Machan holds that “the justification for human sovereignty is our capacity to choose a line of conduct, as well as the responsibility to choose it well, properly,” but that animals do not possess free will and are therefore not entitled to rights or “liberation.”

The fact of history is that our species has not proved its ability to choose its lines of conduct well. We may be the most powerful, prolific, and ruthless species, but can we claim to be successful in any ultimate or evolutionary sense of that word?

It is, I suggest, the arrogance of modern, technological man, who believes that his gadgets and his mobility are proof of his maturity, that is his major stumbling block to real progress. A moral and spiritual pygmy, man’s least right is to claim superiority over species whose representatives enter and leave the natural world without harming it, and in whom the evolutionary pattern may well be working its purpose out more harmoniously, and ultimately more productively, than we who have created a society sick to its core and now in serious doubt of its survival.

Animals do not ask to be “elevated” to personhood. In the glorious prose of Henry Beston:

“We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. . . . We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err and err greatly. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren; they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail of the earth.”