Like Elon Musk, I’m a speciesist and proud of it

Against both Big Tech fatalists and eco-loons, we must stand up for the specialness of humankind.

Brendan O'Neill

Brendan O'Neill
chief political writer

Topics Science & Tech USA

Elon Musk has finally confessed his prejudice. He has aired his bias for all to see. He has admitted that he is in thrall to an ‘ism’. Only it isn’t racism or sexism or any of the other phobias that the woke left is always trying to pin on the controversial Twitter boss. It’s speciesism. ‘I’m a speciesist’, he said in his chat with Tucker Carlson on Fox News. ‘I’m fully a speciesist’, he stressed. That is, he believes in the moral superiority of the human species. He sees humanity as a unique lifeform, possessed of a capacity for consciousness that no beast or machine is ever likely to experience. What a bigot.

Seriously, though, it was sweet relief to see someone as influential as Musk come out as a speciesist. Especially in a week when posh goons from Animal Rising disrupted the Grand National on the basis that riding horses is a form of ‘speciesism’. ‘[T]reating one species as more important than others’ is ‘speciesism’, claim these bourgeois sentimentalists, and it’s the ‘same as discrimination’. Yes, sitting on a horse for a few minutes is akin to refusing to give a black person a job, apparently. In the face of such extraordinary moral disarray, such anti-civilisational self-loathing, where believing in the specialness of humankind has been rechristened a vile bigotry, it was great to see Musk celebrate speciesism. From one speciesist to another – thank you, Elon.

It was in the context of machines rather than beasts, technology rather than fauna, that Musk let slip his speciesism. In their two-part bromantic chat on Fox News, Carlson and Musk got philosophical. They mused over the potential consequences of artificial intelligence (AI) for humankind, the only truly intelligent lifeforce we know of. Musk volunteered a story about Larry Page, co-founder of Google. Google is obsessed with creating ‘artificial superintelligence’, he said, because it wants to be a kind of ‘digital god’, where its mighty machines would act as the sense-makers of the world. Musk says he once asked Page how he would make sure that AI did not spin out of control; how he would ‘make sure humanity’s okay here’. In response, in Musk’s telling, Page called him a ‘speciesist’.

Musk was shocked. ‘Yes, I’m a speciesist’, he apparently said. ‘I’m fully a speciesist. Busted.’ And then my favourite bit: ‘What are you?’, he wondered of Page, which is actually the perfect question to ask those who think it’s an unforgivable ‘ism’ to believe humankind has morally unique qualities that distinguish us from machines and other mammals. ‘Why would anyone not be a speciesist?’, Carlson asked Musk. Musk replied that some in Silicon Valley think ‘all consciousness should be treated equally, whether that is digital or biological’. ‘And you disagree?’, said Carlson. ‘I disagree’, said Musk.

‘Why would anyone not be a speciesist?’ – this is one of the great questions of our age. The answer is because we’re living through a colossal crisis of faith in the human project. ‘Speciesism’ is the name our gloom-ridden societies give to any claim that humankind enjoys a higher moral status than other beings. What used to be known as humanism – the celebration and centering of human consciousness and experience – is now called speciesism. Peter Singer describes speciesism as prejudice ‘towards the interests of members of one’s own species and against those of other species’. Why should human beings get to decide the ‘boundaries of morality’, asked AC Grayling in his attack on speciesism. Perhaps, he said, it is not such a huge step ‘from pulling wings off flies to committing crimes against humanity’. Good Lord.

The accusation of speciesism is most often made in relation to nature and the environment. Anyone who issues the old-style Enlightenment cry that humankind should enjoy dominion over nature – so that we might better understand it and exploit its bounty for the good of society – runs the risk of being damned a speciesist. Yet according to Musk, this s-word is being thrown around in Big Tech circles, too. This isn’t surprising. For it might not be a short step from killing a fly to killing a human – get a grip, everyone – but it is a short step from believing human beings are no better than animals to believing we’re no better than computers. That Google billionaires allegedly share with the likes of Animal Rising a contempt for ‘speciesism’, for any claim that humanity’s consciousness makes us special, makes sense. Clearly, the fashionable downbeat anti-humanism that has been gripping the elites since at least the 1970s has made its way into the new oligarchy of Big Tech.

Big Tech’s hot pursuit of artificial intelligence is often justified on the basis that it will be better than the flawed, prejudicial reasoning of that most volatile of beasts: man. ‘AI-based machines are fast, more accurate, and consistently rational’, argue David De Cremer and Garry Kasparov. Though, of course, they lack our ‘intuitive’ and ‘emotional’ abilities. In short, where the future supercomputer will be ‘consistently rational’, we’ll always be a tad emotional. AI might one day ‘surpass the human mind’, says Discover magazine. We’re potentially headed for a new epoch of machine superintelligence in which AI will be ‘far superior to human smarts’, it says. Take that, arrogant humanity.

The elites’ erasure of the moral boundary between man and beast is now replicated in the scrubbing away of any distinction between man and machine. Animals should be our equals, machines will one day be our superiors – that’s the dual rallying cry of a cultural establishment that has completely lost faith in the human species; which sees us as a swarm to be managed, at best, and a plague on the planet at worst. The bourgeois turn against the Christian-cum-modern belief in human uniqueness lends itself very well to new forms of authoritarian control. So the eco-fatalists introduce ever-more stringent social measures designed to limit our polluting impact on our surroundings, while tech fatalists deploy ‘nudge’ techniques, algorithmic manipulation and outright censorship – Musk revisited that issue, too – to limit the toxic influence of our bestial passions and beliefs.

This is the dire end result of the evacuation of moral status from humankind, the reduction of us to ‘just another species’. We come to be seen either as units of pollution whose behaviour must be curbed by the benevolent gods of the eco-elite or as units of prejudice whose online activity must be directed and controlled by the ‘digital gods’ of Google. As emitters of carbon or emitters of hate. No better than animals, inferior to machines. There is no need to panic about AI, of course. Musk and Carlson did some of that, sadly. Musk said that in the future we might need a governmental ‘kill switch’ to turn off the infrastructure of superintelligence in the event that it dreams of conquering and controlling humankind. Chill, Elon. We’re a superior species, remember?

But we should worry about the war on ‘speciesism’. Which is really a war on the making of any moral distinction between mankind on one side and animals and computers on the other. Let us remind all of them that there is no beast or appliance on Earth that will ever know the consciousness, self-awareness, capacity for joy and pain, and the ability to love and appreciate beauty for its own sake that human beings enjoy. And there never will be.

Brendan O’Neill is spiked’s chief political writer and host of the spiked podcast, The Brendan O’Neill Show. Subscribe to the podcast here. And find Brendan on Instagram: @burntoakboy

Picture by: YouTube / Fox News.

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Topics Science & Tech USA


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