Friday, September 18, 2009

Human rights & Non-human rights

By Daniel K. Wilson

District 9 is an interesting little film in regards to how we understand, view and treat non-humans. I’ve often wondered what would happen if extraterrestrials just showed up at the White House or the Kremlin one day. Would we kill them on sight out of fear? Would we cage them and experiment on them to learn what makes them tick? Would we enslave them and exploit them for their technology?

This film addresses all these questions. Even though the aliens are technologically superior to us and are able to communicate with us in a language we can understand, they are not biologically superior. And since they’re not human, they don’t deserve human rights. In this film, intelligence, language and superior technology are not enough to warrant equal consideration.

It’s the same way we treat non-humans right now. We do all the above-mentioned atrocities and even more, to non-human animals that have always shared this planet with us. Animals that maybe aren’t as smart as we are (although some are many times stronger than us and possess senses and abilities that we don’t), yet deserve compassion and respect all the same.

But people don’t see animals this way; at least not all animals. Without giving anything away, there’s a scene in the movie where a pig gets blown away during a shoot out between the good guys and the bad guys. Almost everyone in the audience laughed. If it had been a dog, those same people would’ve been sad and upset but because it’s a pig - an animal not very high on our list of favourites - they think it’s funny.

This is called cognitive dissonance, when people hold two contradictory views about something, like when it’s okay to kill and eat a pig but wrong to kill and eat a cat, or when it’s wrong to kill an alien, like in the movie, but okay to kill a cow or pig.

I’d like to think that if an alien species landed on Earth tomorrow we’d extend our hand in peace and fellowship, but knowing how we’ve treated others that are different from us in the past and how we continue to treat other animals, I’m doubtful.

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