top of page

The Absolute Absurdity of This Guy's Opposition to the Sentience Bill

A scientist named Nicholas Humphrey wrote a piece in the Daily Mail about how the new Sentience Bill is bad because . . . well honestly, after dissecting it ad nauseam I still don't know what his actual point is. I truly think he might just be scared that his allotted lobster consumption could decrease. I'm sorry to make you read some garbage from the garbage Mail, but it'll be fun to destroy this nonsensical piece together. (This is the link to the published piece, but the photos below capture the entirety of it so you don't have to give the DM any more traffic.) It's not deserving of legitimate detailed criticism, but the rant below should do.

The sentiment in this asinine headline comparing a lobster to an alarm clock actually rears its ugly head repeatedly in this piece as, I think it may be, the crux of Nicholas' argument. Little Nicky is basically saying "if they don't feel pain, then it's okay to kill them." While true that animal justice -- and the concept of sentience -- relies heavily on trying to convince the public of animals' right to life on the grounds that they feel pain, that criterion is not the be all and end all of Reasons A Being Deserves Not to be Killed, Nicholas. I won't get into all the complexities of animal sentience here, but you must consider pain as well as distress to determine whether a being is 'suffering', and whether an action inflicted on the being is reasonable or necessary. (We'll come back to this later.)

But okay, if we accept your premise -- that X doesn't feel pain -- and all relevant experts agree on this, well then, doesn't that mean this ISN'T an argument that has to do with the Sentience Bill?? Apologies if I'm missing his point, but if this piece is ostensibly about the Sentience Bill, why is Nicky in such a state about animals he believes don't feel pain? Wouldn't they . . . not be implicated by the Sentience Bill then? And thus not cause Nick any trouble in his favorite activity of, I'm guessing, boiling lobsters? And if the Bill DOES make it harder for Nick to continue housing sweet sweet lobs, doesn't that mean a sufficient number of other experts have decided that they ARE indeed sufficiently sentient to be of concern to the Bill? SO WHAT'S THE POINT HERE, NICKY?

Shockingly, Nico Suave apparently thinks it's a zinger to state that the Sentience Bill is driven solely by human sensitivity, and not about what the animals want. He's saying our attempt at caring a little more for animals, maybe avoiding torturing those that feel pain (ya know just to see if they like that better), is somehow not in line with the "wants and needs" of animals. Pray tell, Nicky, which "wants and needs" of animals contradict this bill trying to give them a bit more protection? I'm all ears. I may not be Dr. Dolittle (ugh I wish), but, even without animals being able to tell me directly, I'm fairly sure they would indeed like it if we treated them better. (I'm also pretty sure they would also appreciate not being dressed like a grandma and then yeeted off a cliff but that's not today's issue.)

Does this guy think we are out here working for our own benefit? Nicky, I'm not doing this work for my health. It does not help me pay the bills (ROFL) or even sleep at night; in fact, I can't fall asleep before 4am so if your scientist ass has any help for that I would APPRECIATE it. No, our 'sensitivities' are not driving this work. Our realizations, our science (yep!), our acknowledging that animals are living beings who deserve to live on their own terms are driving it. The sentience bill and similar legislation are simply ways of codifying ever so slightly more protection for animals, to reach a point where living without some of the worse kinds of human interference might be possible for them. Can he really say with a straight face that protecting animals from torture and/or death does not coincide with "the wants and needs of animals themselves"? I just - Nicky - please - help us understand how your neural pathways are or are not firing, because I need help wrapping my, I guess feeble brain, around that logic. I guess I should trust a scientist - animals do not need or want to live free from pain, torture, or death by humans for our selfish reasons. Wow. Huge if true. The wooorld turned upsiiiiiide dooooown.

He claims that broadening the categories of animals who may be worthy of protection under UK law is sentimental, unjustifiable, and a legal minefield. I do love him for using the Oxford comma here, but that's it.

Sentimental: based on feelings/emotions rather than reason/thought. Sure, a lot of animal work is driven by emotion because those of us in the work are upset at animals being tortured (we're weird like that!), but sentience is based on years and years of facts and scientific research. Not that caring is a bad thing! Some of the best laws and most important progress in the world came about due to people giving a shit about others. Try it!

Unjustifiable: not right or reasonable. I'm gonna need more here, Nickelback. How is it not reasonable or right to reduce the number of animals we force to suffer? (I truly think he means it's unjustifiable that someone might stop him from devouring an endless supply of lobster.) This is one of those oft-seen sorts of statements that people like to make in 'arguments' because it sounds convincing but they never provide any supporting evidence for their conclusion. Maybe it's just us lawyers who need evidence to be persuaded of a baseless conclusion? Oh no, it's everyone? Correct. Please everyone, a PSA: if you are engaged in an argument, conclusory statements do not cut the mustard.

Nicki Minaj, if you can give me one reason to support your claim that it's sentimental or unjustifiable other than 'because I want to eat them' I will give you one million dollars. What's unjustifiable is that you probably received payment for this dribble while I, writing pure gold here, will not. (p.s. for legal purposes let me be clear that I was kidding about the money; if anyone gives us a million bones we are using that to help animals because we are, well, overly sentimental I guess.)

A legal minefield: tell me any regulation that isn't! Listen, this aspect of the complaint seems to boil down to 'it'll be hard.' Of course it'll be hard. All legislating and law enforcement is difficult. I don't want to say the cliche that anything worth doing is going to be difficult but ffs, anything worth doing is going to be difficult! I'm not going to draw comparisons to other people who have stood in the way of necessary progress because it was going to get complicated, but you can imagine what I'm thinking of.

Honestly, I think he's salty that other experts and people in his field disagree with his conclusions. That's what it sounds like, like 'unfortunately experts have differing opinions!" Well, hon, if a) smart people disagree with you and so b) the committee will most likely have various viewpoints represented . . . isn't that good? Don't we want the committee to be diverse? Don't we want a marketplace of ideas? In one, you can't get angry if yours isn't considered the best.

This car analogy is incredible. Just dreadful. I said all that needs to be said in the red pen.

I am so eager to know what animal values he would prefer drive the debate -- having the bigger chunk of meat? building the most rainproof nest? Of course human ideas and ideals are driving the debate; it's about human laws. How could animals drive debate when they can't even drive the cars you think they're equal to?

I mean, his big booming conclusion was that we have to agree on which animals are sentient before we can enforce laws? That's . . . that's what the committee formed by this Bill will do. So, are you good?? Like literally the committee will decide whether they need to do anything about regulations that entangle a potentially sentient animal. While it's not a perfect solution, it's something! If we have decent minds on the committee, that's even better. Pleeeease someone tell me how lawyers seek to gain the most from this.

I am most struck by his insistence on his own concept of what satisfies sufficient levels of sentience, and what he considers to be sufficient pain. But as I said at the start, our concept of sentience needs to be more than what we think of as pain. And anyone who has seen a lobster boiled alive in a standard restaurant kitchen would at least consider the idea that they are in obvious distress, possibly suffering. They clearly want to live, and absent any reasonable or necessary reason to take that from them, why should we? Just because they may not be feeling the same pain we would be feeling in similar situations does not mean that they aren't suffering in some way. They know that they are being tortured and being killed. And they don't want that to happen. What else do you need to know to be willing to stop this?

Why not err on the side of caution? What do you lose, what harm comes to you, if we hedge our bets and treat more animals with respect and dignity 'just in case'? Do you lose more than your Endless Shrimp Night at Red Lobster?

Anyway, I need to take a shower to get the horrific stench of the Mail off of me. You're welcome for taking one for the team.

bottom of page