According to one critic, the animal rights movement is dissipating, as the utopia envisioned by its most fervent ideologues has failed to materialize. Is he right? Read on for the answer.

Well, well, well.

Looky what we have here.

The author of one of the seminal books on the animal rights movement has just published an essay that strongly attacks both the concept and its promoters.

Wesley J. Smith, author of “A Rat is a Pig Is a Dog Is a Boy,” is a lawyer, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute and a go-to consultant on issues related to bioengineering. He’s also an outspoken critic of what he calls “scientocracy,” the notion that the scientific community should have the loudest voice on ethical issues.

More to the point, in his rat-is-a-pig book, Smith wrote that animal rights ideology amounts to a “quasi-religion” that declares a moral equivalency between the value of animal and human lives.

He got that right.

In his essay on the Discovery Institute’s Evolution News website, Smith made the point that the violence, and perhaps some of the fervor, that has marked the animal rights movement may be subsiding.

“When I wrote my book [in 2012], I thought the movement was on the march and its violent arm growing ever more dangerous,” he stated. “These days, not so much.”

He distinguished between efforts at advancing animal welfare — which he correctly noted is something clear majorities of people support — and the quest to turn animals into the legal equivalent of humans. Except for what he characterized as isolated initiatives to transform chimps and whales into people, he called the animal rights movement “more of a pest these days than an existential threat.”

Of course, as an ideologue himself, Smith doesn’t discount his personal impact on that development.

“I wish I could take some credit for that,” he wrote (which is a backhanded way of actually taking some credit), “but I think the unnaturalness of forcing oneself to believe that humans and animals are moral equals has taken its inevitable toll.”

Momentum on the wane

Is he right? Has the animal rights movement lost its mojo?

Yes and no. Anti-industry protests, lobbing campaigns and attempts to use ballot measures to achieve movement goals haven’t gone away, but they appear to have lost some of their energy, which seems to be most surprising to the activists themselves.

As Smith noted, many activists over the past 10 to 15 years confidently predicted a future in which hunting would be outlawed (or at least so socially unacceptable that most hunters would quit voluntarily); in which what was left of animal agriculture, as millions of people gave up meat, would be conducted without cages, crates or confinement; and where everyone, not just committed advocates, would support a newfound connection with the members of the animal kingdom.

That process would be accelerated by the growing secularization of society, many activists reasoned, but Smith noted that such a trend never materialized.

“The idea that most people would embrace equal brotherhood and sisterhood with the ‘non-human animals,’ ” he wrote, “and that ‘speciesism’ would come to be equated with the evils of racism and other invidious distinctions that are wielded against humans, has always been a stretch.”

Agree or disagree with Smith’s views on the prominence of science in the modern world, and of course his connection with the “evolution’s just a theory” Discovery Institute, he made a salient point at the end of his essay: “We are not animals — in the moral sense, not biologically—and they are not us. Thus, in our hearts, we know that there is a huge and consequential difference between running over a child with your car, and accidentally turning a squirrel into road kill.”

Not the most elegant phrasing in which to couch one’s moral principles, but nevertheless, right on the money.

The analogy deftly exposes the fundamental flaw in the animal rights ideology. No matter how hard activists try, it is impossible — other than by the exercise of willful ignorance — to pretend that livestock, wildlife or even household pets are no different than the people with whom they either interact or try to avoid.

Me, I’m going to get one of those Humane Society bumper stickers that has a map of the United States created with animal silhouettes — only I’m going to add my own tagline:

“We are not them, and they are not us.”  

Dan Murphy is a food-industry journalist and commentator