A few years ago, I would have been one of those jerks losing my mind over Cecil the Lion being killed. I would have shared a whiny Buzzfeed article and written a comment like how about he tries hunting a lion without a gun! Then we’ll see what kind of a man he really is!
I used to think that sport hunting was morally wrong, and I hated slaughterhouses for turning so many animals into steaks and chicken nuggets. But in reality, I just hated my life, so everything seemed morally wrong. I was unhappy with the way things had been going, and I blamed the world instead of myself.
Now, I’m feeling good. In fact, I’m feeling so good that I’m writing a blog about what kinds of animals should not be killed and why! Happiness manifests itself in strange ways, doesn’t it?
Without further ado, here are the three kinds of animals that you cannot kill in ascending order:
- The Critically Endangered Animal
There are four northern white rhinos left in the wild… and you can’t kill them.
This species, unlike the majority of species, is now a finite resource. Unlike grass, chickens, or mosquitoes, we know how many are left, we know it’s not enough to sustain the species’ existence, and we know it’s unlikely we can produce any more.
I pride myself on being reasonable, but I admit that I can’t fully defend this point. It is based on feelings and assumptions, not ethical principles. What I mean is, so what if there were no norther white rhinos left?
Anyway, if you are attacked by a northern white rhino, you can totally kill it. Human life is more valuable than endangered animal life, which I will blabber about in more detail shortly.
- The Animal in Custody
I am the proud owner of a sugar glider named Penelope… and you can’t kill her.
You can’t kill her, you see, because she is mine. I own her. I am responsible for her. I pay for her food. I clean her rancid, ammonia-smelling piss off my shirts. I let her bite my fingers and scratch my arms when she wants to play. And I wake up at 3am to see what she’s barking about (hint: it’s nothing).
A man’s property and dependents are an extension of himself, and Penelope is an extension of me. For the same reason that I can’t key your car, you can’t squish my beloved marsupial friend… because, in a way, you’d be squishing me too.
This is why it’s illegal to kill a rancher’s cows or your neighbor’s parrot, even if it yammers like an idiot.
However, if Penelope attacks you, do what you have to do to keep yourself safe. The same goes for my dog Waffles.
- The Metacognitive Animal
I am aware of my own thoughts… and you can’t kill me.
When an animal becomes aware of its own thoughts and consciousness, it is no longer an “animal”. Once it has recognized itself, its ability to conceive, and has in some way or another displayed this capability, it acquires personhood.
And before you say so you think it’s okay to kill babies and the mentally ill, note that this rule applies to all members of the species. Humans have the potential to become metacognitive, and we are not so smart that we can determine a given person’s potential, so we have no right to end any human’s life. And if your hamster stood up one day and said dude… I’m a hamster!, we’d have to spread the word that hamster life is now supremely precious too.
I’m not sure if Koko the Gorilla or other individual primates have been proven to be metacognitive, but if they have, killing any member of the proven animal’s species is wrong. I think this is self-evident, and it’s why it breaks our hearts to see more intelligent animals like dolphins, elephants, and dogs die. These creatures are closer to the brink of metacognition than most, so we are more empathetic to their doom. And it’s why we don’t feel the same way about a deer or a fish getting taken down on a wildlife show (we sometimes enjoy that).
As applies to the two previous kinds of animals, there is nothing wrong with killing a metacognitive animal that is trying to do serious harm. This is the justification for self-defense laws. Depending on the situation, it might even be okay to kill a metacognitive animal that presents in imminent threat to animals 3 and 2, but I’ll let you think about that one on your own.
In addition to these three kinds of animals, I would say that killing anything without a good reason is wrong. You can swat a fly that’s pestering you, a pig that you want to eat, a tree that looks like it might fall on your house, or a pet that’s more burden than benefit. But you shouldn’t kill an animal just because it’s there or just because you can. That’s brutality. And abstaining from brutality is what makes us human and gives our lives infinite value in the first place.