The Greatness of Elephants
Jun 17, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 38 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
One of The Scrapbook’s favorite journals is the Ethics and Public Policy Center’s quarterly, The New Atlantis. TNA, which has just celebrated its 10th anniversary, is concerned with unpacking matters of technology and science, and grappling with how such advances relate to human nature. If you’re a Leon Kass fanboy—and, really, who isn’t?—The New Atlantis is your Tiger Beat.
The latest issue features an amazing piece by Caitrin Nicol titled, suggestively enough, “Do Elephants Have Souls?” In it, Nicol grapples with the majestic beasts, explaining what we know about them (they bury their dead; they practice art; they communicate not infrasonically, but seismically) and asking, well, whether elephants might have souls.
Nicol is making a very careful, and very heterodox, argument. She rejects the reductive reasoning of Peter Singer—a rat is not a fish, nor is it a pig, nor a dog, nor a boy. She is, instead, suggesting that on the continuum with a nematode at one end and homo sapiens at the other, elephants are probably much closer to our end of the scale. And that we ought to properly appreciate the beauty of this fact.
Some conservatives fear this beauty because they worry that recognizing soulfulness in an animal might lead to PETA-style hippie mischief or worse—the utilitarian Singer-ism which erodes human dignity. But Nicol does a fine job of explaining why this fear is misplaced, and why an embrace of the elephant can only serve to deepen our humanity:
All hail the elephant. And all hail The New Atlantis.
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