Western society has grown extremely tolerant of a large variety of what we might call “life-ways”—ways in which people desire to live, by choice or genetic destiny. Unmarried parents, interracial marriage, homosexuality, same-sex marriage, bisexuals, transsexuals, and transvestites—all are now regarded as legitimate life-ways, to be respected and protected. It is hard to think of any life-way that is now generally regarded as “deviant”—unless it is coercive or demonstrably harmful to others (pedophilia, zoophilia). So are there no more liberal social causes? Is there no group left that is wrongly shunned and deplored (at least by intelligent people)? Are we finally fully enlightened?
I certainly find it difficult to think of any outstanding cases. But this is an alarming thought, because that is what people would have said before the recent liberations. We should always be careful before declaring complete moral clarity. Are there any unusual (statistically) life-ways that remain to be defended? Can we conceive of any that might need defending from irrational persecution? Genetic engineering offers some promising problem cases, at least in principle. Presumably no one would object to sex changes that proceed genetically rather than surgically—assuming they found sex change in principle acceptable. If a person desiring to change sexes could undergo a genetic overhaul that brought about the desired transformation, we would find this a tolerable way to implement the desire in question. But what should we say about other genetic possibilities?
Consider a person who desires to change sex and race: say, a white man who wants to become a black woman. We need not enquire into his reasons—that is not our business. What we know is that he has a deep-seated and carefully considered desire to makes the change in question. Let us suppose that there is a safe and reliable way to make the necessary physiological alterations (something about stem cells and gene splicing). We can suppose too that he has the support of his family and friends. He comes out of the procedure a much-changed man and lives happily ever after, never regretting his decision for a moment. Is there anything here we can reasonably object to? Not that I can see. He did no one any harm, he made himself happy, and he provided employment to some dedicated health professionals. It was his choice—what he really wanted.
But let’s take this a step further—let’s suppose a person wants to change species. Again, we needn’t go into the motivation for such a desire; we can assume that it is sincere and carefully considered. Suppose I deeply want to become an elephant: is that okay? We can stipulate that it is a safe and reliable procedure; we can even stipulate that it is reversible, so that I can return to being human if the elephant thing doesn’t work out for me. Imagine that the doctors can also guarantee my safety while an elephant, so I take no risks by making the change. So far as I can see, there is no good objection to my making this life choice—it is just part of my freedom to live as I see fit. So “transspeciesists” should not be hindered or deplored or persecuted or discriminated against. If a person wishes to become a monkey so that she can marry a monkey, I can see no objection of principle—once she is fully informed of the facts about what she proposes. Presumably, if a human becomes a member of another species, then the chances of mating with other members of that species are high, and I can see no reason why this should be prohibited or even disapproved of. If people decide they want to take transspecies vacations, becoming of another species for a limited time, that seems perfectly permissible—certainly, it cannot be condemned for being “unnatural” (compare transsexuals). It is just one life choice among many that can be made.
Yet I suspect that many people, otherwise quite liberal, will recoil at the idea of elective transspeciesism. They may ask what we would say if the entire human population decided they wanted to go transpeciesist? What if people decided to opt out of humanity altogether and join other species? They might keep remnants of their old human mental life, while being able to fly like a bird (as a bird). This is like the question of what to say if everyone decides to go female. The result would be human extinction obviously. That may be a pity, but I see no objection in each individual case. If Bill wants to be a shark, that’s his business. If Mary fancies life as a butterfly, that’s her choice. If Tom wants to be a bat so that he can know what it is like, that’s entirely his affair. It’s a matter of individual freedom, just like the other cases with which we are now familiar. We don’t have to deal with it as a pressing concern, because of the present lack of the requisite technology, but the future may well hold this very possibility, as genetic science progresses. If some terrible disease afflicts humans in the future, and the only way to avoid it is by changing species, then it may well seem like the natural and right thing to do. In any case, it belongs in the palette of human possibilities. Of course, forcing people to change species is wrong, but what is wrong with letting people decide their own species identity? We certainly can’t object that it is not what God intended (maybe it is just what he intended), or else we have to ban other kinds of transformative life choice. So transspeciesism should be put on the list of permissible life-ways. If I decide I want to become a female panther, say, that is my own personal business, and no one can object. Come to think of it…