A judge has issued an order to show cause why Happy, the elephant, is not entitled to relief on a writ of habeas corpus. In habeas cases there are procedures for denying petitions at an early stage, without issuing the writ, and the judge’s failure to do so here makes me sad. I’m not going to repeat everything I’ve said about the frivolousness of Steven Wise’s quest to make non-human animals people in the eyes of the law. I do hope that when the judge reaches the merits, she does the right thing.
Why has it come to this? Do we not live in an age when apparently educated people have somehow lost the ability to draw the most basic and fundamental distinctions? Let me propose another reason why the judge’s decision makes sense in our crazy age. Our society values and even privileges suffering. If you are a victim, you have moral authority in our society. Now we know that at least some animals can experience suffering, because we ourselves are animals. If you believe, as I do, that all non-human animals are as capable of suffering as we are, then in an age like ours where suffering confers moral authority, it makes sense to accord more status to suffering animals. We may be the unique ζῷον πoλιτικόν or the unique homo sapiens, but we and all the other animals are animalia patiens, and if suffering is what give a person dignity and status, then hey, why not?