Bioethicists: Bugs Are Individuals, Too!


Photo credit: Gavin Tyte via Unsplash.

The rejection of human exceptionalism turns the world upside down and people’s brains upside down. We have seen opponents of human exceptionalism promote animal and natural rights. We even saw a professor explain the alleged personality of peas. Now it is the turn of the insects to be humanized.

As many readers probably know, radical environmentalists want us to stop meat consumption in order to stop global warming from cow gas. But this plan causes horror to two bioethicists who write in Aeon. Oh, not because they like steak. Rather, such a plan would kill billions of living things! From “Don’t breed bugs”:

Do we want to promote a food system in which animals are raised by the billions?

In terms of the number of animals killed each year, the most commonly bred insects are crickets, mealworm beetle larvae and black soldier fly larvae. The most common slaughter methods in these establishments are baking, cooking, freezing and chopping. Most jurisdictions do not have animal welfare regulations that govern insect slaughter. Operators are free to kill the insects in the most efficient way possible.

What’s next? Laws to Protect Insects?

The hand-wringing continues:

Insect breeding is the newest method by which humans kill insects in large numbers, but it is far from the only one. Humans kill insects for silk, carmine, shellac (a type of resin), and many other products. We use insecticides in our homes, schools and offices. In particular, farmers spray huge amounts of chemicals on our fields and orchards, killing over a trillion insects with agricultural pesticides every year.

Insects are people too:

Insects exhibit some behaviors that suggest an ability to have positive and negative experiences. For example, fruit flies appear capable of anhedonia, a loss of interest in activities that have previously been shown to be rewarding, and a common symptom of human depression. When you expose flies to aversive vibration for several days, their activity begins to change in predictable ways. The shaken flies show a decrease in various voluntary actions, although their reflexive behavior remains unchanged. In particular, shaken flies consume much less glycerin (commonly used as a reward in fruit fly studies) than unshaken controls, suggesting that the shaken flies have lost their taste for candy.

The idea is not to hurt anything that is feeling – even if it is not living:

It could also be argued that our reasoning leads to a slippery slope. After all, insects aren’t the only living things that could at least be sentient. Artificial intelligences, for example, have increasingly complex sensory and cognitive abilities. Does our argument mean that we should expect to harm them too? In this case, the implications of our reasoning could be even more onerous. Is it really safe to assume that we not only harm ants and bees, but also characters in video games or digital assistants in phones?

Maybe like this. Granted, we can draw a line between insects and artificial intelligences for the time being, since insects are much more sentient than artificial intelligences. But we may not always be able to draw such a line because artificial intelligences may not always have such a slim chance of being sentient. Perhaps one day insects and artificial intelligences have a significant chance of being sentient, given the evidence available at the time. And when and when that day comes, perhaps we should really assume that, in a spirit of caution, neither of us do harm.

Sensation is a very low bar. It means “feeling or sensation as distinct from perception and thinking”. A fly is actually sentient. The same goes for oysters, which grow pearls when a grain of sand irritates their membranes.

Late Abortion? That is different

Gosh, I was wondering what the authors think about late abortions as fetuses can feel pain. That too is sensation. I bet they’d say, “This is different.” Right.

It’s a very long piece, but you get the essentials. And don’t think these people are alone. PETA rejects honey because it’s about “rape” the queen bees.

Why point out this nonsense? First, this is the kind of thing universities are now promoting among their budding professors. Second, and more importantly, don’t say it will never happen. Think about what we laughed about 50 years ago and that is such a harsh dogma today that a heterodox view can lead to the loss of your job.

Human anti-exceptionalism must be fought every time it raises its hostile head, no matter how borderline or improbable. If you don’t, really harmful ideas can sprout and grow.

Cross-posted at The Corner.