The Boulder Rights of Nature

September 10, 2013


Boulder Rights of Nature

I would really enjoy discussing the definition of legal “rights” with these people.  The Boulder Rights of Nature organization in Boulder, Colorado, seeks to establish rights belonging to nature itself as a means to protecting the environment.  As a legal matter, it’s difficult to see how these “rights” could be enforced, given the lack of legal standing (one generally cannot sue to enforce someone else’s rights unless one has a special relationship with the other person, and since the rights here would be asserted against property owners to prevent them from “harming” the natural beings on their own property, it is difficult to conceive who besides the property owner could have that “special relationship”).

But leaving legal standing aside, this could get interesting if it gains any traction with the media.  A few years ago, I wrote on this blog that the intentional killing of any human organism (including the pre-born) should be illegal, and a reader objected that I was imposing my religious beliefs on other people.  He urged that one cannot grant “personhood” to an unborn human because other people do not believe that unborn humans are “persons.”  I disagreed, of course, and argued that the granting of rights and “personhood” to a human being comports with justice and also is not religious.  The Boulder Rights of Nature organization helps prove my point.  That organization is not “religious” as far as I can tell.  If a law granting “rights” to nature (the trees and flowers) is irreligious, a law granting rights to preborn humans is not religious, either.

In that vein, I especially love this quote from BRON’s proposed draft Sustainable Rights of Nature Ordinance:

While not eliminating property ownership, these new laws seek to eliminate the authority of a property owner to destroy, or cause substantial harm to, natural communities and ecosystems that exist and depend upon that property.

Could we not draft a similar law stating, “while not eliminating a woman’s dominion over her own body, this new law seeks to eliminate the authority of a person to destroy, or cause substantial harm to, natural human organisms that exist and depend upon her body”?  Are preborn humans less deserving of protection than trees?  If the Sustainable Rights of Nature Ordinance is not inherently unjust, could a law preventing the intentional killing of innocent preborn humans ever be unjust?

Elysium is a thinly-veiled promotion of a rather liberal political agenda, especially with respect to immigration and healthcare reform.  One can gather that quickly by watching the movie or reading the reviews of moviegoers on yahoo.  But I would have enjoyed the movie anyway if it had been more complete.

Sorry to spoil the rather unoriginal and predictable plot, but here it is in all its simplicity: 150 years into the future, our planet Earth is ruined by overpopulation and poverty such that the entire earth looks like a third world country.  Everyone in LA speaks Spanish and/or is Hispanic.  The elite of the world (wealthy, intelligent, educated, etc.), build a huge space station called “Elysium” to, and I quote, “preserve their way of life” (though the film does little if anything to show what that “way of life” looks like; we are supposed to assume it’s ideal with whatever that might mean to us–kind of like Heaven, I suppose).  Elysium has free (and perfect) healthcare in the form of body-scanning machines that can heal a person from essentially every malady short of complete death (it can even do reconstructive facial surgery and restore someone who had his face blown off by an explosive, looking good as new after the healthcare scan).  To get the bodyscan, a person needs both to be on Elysium and be a citizen of Elysium.  They refer to all non-citizens as “illegals,” and Jodie Foster’s character heads up a group called “Homeland Security” (yes, the metaphor is that obvious) to protect Elysium from intruders, but the dark-skinned “president” essentially undermines the Homeland Security efforts, leading Foster’s evil character to stage a coup to protect Elysium.  Meanwhile, Matt Damon’s character lives on earth, gets sick, has 5 days to live, and needs to get to Elysium to get that body scan to heal himself as well as his friend’s daughter, who has leukemia.

There was potential for this movie but they didn’t explore the pertinent questions arising out of such a plotline nearly enough.

For instance, were the people on Elysium happy in their isolated (and supposedly trouble-free) world?  What was life like for them?  Did they at least have “first world problems“, or was this a symbolic utopia of sorts?

Was it immoral for the citizens of Elysium to build Elysium at the outset and/or to take the best and brightest from the world and stick them up in Elysium? (If so, it’s likewise immoral for America to allow the best and brightest of other nations to emmigrate to the U.S., contributing to brain-drain in third world countries, which could actually mean permitting unlimited immigration would sometimes be immoral, not benevolent).

Is the existence of Elysium itself (or the imbalance of wealth in any closed system) an instance of injustice?  If it didn’t exist at all, apparently no one would have healthcare, unless the best and brightest of Elysium were somehow forced into providing healthcare to everyone everywhere (and how would we force them to do so without paying them–making them elite, the kind of elitists that we from the outset held were an example of injustice–or forcing slavery, which we also find disgusting?).

To put that last question another way, more broadly: is it unjust that Oprah owns eight homes while I only rent one (and some people are entirely homless, or living with multiple families in the same dwelling)?  Is an imbalance of wealth itself an inherent injustice?  Is it immoral anytime any of us earns more than the median world salary (a small number that will shock your conscience) and fails to donate the entire surplus to those below that line to even things up?  Isn’t this movie saying that the general imbalance of resources and happiness between Earth and Elysium is in itself immoral (notwithstanding that everybody who helped make that movie likely lives an extravagant lifestyle, at least from a world-wide perspective)?  If the movie is saying that, does it not also suggest by implication that we are a nation of hypocrites and psychopaths, but not much else?

Were there scarce health-care resources on Elysium, such that the masses on Earth would consume up the health-care “machines”, creating an underclass of the unhealthy anyway? If there was no such scarcity, why did the people on Elysium keep those machines from being delivered to earth rather than sending reproductions (or even just one or two) of these impersonal machines (which apparently did not even need maintenance or a personal expert to operate, or at least the movie did not indicate such a need)?  Were the citizens of Elysium presumed to be psychopaths with nothing but contempt for all outsiders (and in fact a positive desire to harm or starve outsiders), rather than protectors of their limited goods?  (Even in wealthy America, we participate in and fund global relief efforts, however effective or ineffective that may be.)  If the citizens of Elysium were that evil, shouldn’t we just blow the whole edifice up rather than allow these Stalin-like creatures to continue profiting from building such machines?  Or would we disapprove of forcing them to labor on our behalf here on “Earth” (the third world country)?

Additionally, as a somewhat irrelevant side note, imagine how long the wait lines would be on an overpopulated earth seeking to exploit the machines that were built only to serve an elite few rather than billions.  Can the machines break from overuse?  Will people harm each other to cut in line?  Will the gate-keepers of the line allow their friends and family a place of privilege so that they get the best machines and spend the smallest amount of time in line?  These machines are unlikely to turn the third world Earth cesspool into a utopia just through healthcare.  At least, the problems of poverty and crime would still persist.

There are just way too many unanswered questions. This movie might have been an ambitious mini-series on TV, and I would love to have seen these issues explored (even if with a liberal or other agenda), but the movie fails to deliver in an intellectually-satisfying way.  That’s unfortunate.

Update:  It just occurred to me, this movie could be seen (ironically) as a pro-life metaphorical argument.  The citizens of “earth” could be unborn humans, whereas the elites on Elysium could be people who have been born.  The people on Elysium (metaphors for mothers) are entirely in control of whether the earthlings (metaphors for unborn babies) can have healthcare and live.  However, the earthlings pose a threat to the comfortable way of living for those on Elysium, and the citizens of Elysium want to “preserve their way of life.”  When someone from earth finally “gets through” against the will of those on Elysium (say, for example, a child of a failed abortion), that person fights with all his/her might to end the denial of life for the earthlings.  In this interpretation, the movie metaphor wouldn’t even go far enough, because mothers and their unborn babies have a far more intimate (and morally obligatory) relationship than that between the citizens of Elysium and Earth.

Principled Voting

July 21, 2013

Would you vote for a politician running in an election if he/she agreed with your political beliefs in all respects except one, and that one exception was that he/she was in favor of, say, race-based slavery?

I pose this question because some media types say that Republicans should get away from the “social issues” which concern religious voters.  I’ve also heard Republicans refer to problematic “single issue voters” who would not vote for Republicans who were (for example) pro-choice.  Now, if you believe that abortion is in fact the killing of an innocent human being, these Republicans and media types are treating your views as subordinate, urging you to compromise.  But I’m going to ask again, with a different example:

If a politician espouses all of your views except one, the exception being his/her desire to initiate state-sponsored killing of the terminally ill and elderly (keep in mind, you will likely one day be elderly) because such people increase national healthcare costs, would you vote for that politician?  If your answer is “no,” perhaps you don’t think it’s such a bad thing to be a “single issue voter”.

Subsection (a): “Murder is the unlawful killing of a human being, or a fetus, with malice aforethought.”

Subsection (b) provides an exception for abortion consented to by the mother.

Some observations:

1.  Murder only applies to killing a human, not an animal or non-human.

2.  If a man walks up to a woman and, say, cuts off her arm (or any other bodily “tissue”) but it does not result in her death, it is not murder.

3.  A man who walks up to an unsuspecting pregnant woman and punches her in the stomach, intentionally killing her unborn child but not killing the mother, has committed murder under the statute, even if she had planned on getting an abortion.  It is not merely a tort or the crime of assault and battery; it is murder.

4.  If the man punches a woman who is not pregnant in the stomach, it is not murder, and if he punches a pregnant woman in the stomach but it does not kill the fetus, it is not murder.

5.  If the pregnant woman punches herself in the stomach and kills her fetus, or if she asks a man to punch her in the stomach to intentionally cause the death of the fetus, it is not murder.

So, killing an animal or cutting off a human appendage is not murder, and killing a human being is murder.  Killing a fetus is also murder, except when a pregnant woman decides for whatever reason that her fetus belongs with the categories of “animal” or “human appendage” rather than “human being”.

As written, subsection (b) of section 187 is logically consistent with subsection (a) because subsection (a) expressly does not apply if subsection (b) applies.  However, can the exception philosophically be reconciled with the rule?  On what basis may a fetus be deemed the equivalent of a human being based on the intent of another person?  Can a person truly decide and declare, based on any reason or no reason at all (i.e. randomly), whether another person is in fact a person or the equivalent of a person worthy of legal protection?  Does it make sense that it’s murder to kill someone else’s fetus, even if that person planned on getting an abortion anyway?  When would that fetus transfer from “human being” back to discardable tissue?  When mom makes up or changes her mind (unless someone else decides for her without her consent)?

It’s one thing to attempt to justify legal abortions on the ground that an unborn child is not a legal person or the equivalent thereof.  But wouldn’t that mean section 187 is incoherent?  Would one prefer, in the name of consistency, to rewrite section 187 to honor the argument that unborn persons are not in fact persons, thereby recasting and/or reducing the criminal sanction against a man who walks up to a random pregnant woman and punches her in the stomach, causing an abortion?  Is a “wanted child” more worthy of personhood and legal protection against killing than an “unwanted child”?  Why?

A classic example of journalistic objectivity brought to you by National Public Radio:

On the air, we should use “abortion rights supporter(s)/ advocate(s)” and “abortion rights opponent(s)” or derivations thereof (for example: “advocates of abortion rights”). It is acceptable to use the phrase “anti-abortion”, but do not use the term “pro-abortion rights”.

That last sentence is interesting.  I’m considered “anti-abortion,” but my debate opponents are not considered “pro-abortion,” nor even “pro-abortion rights”?  So, to put it logically, I’m publicly described as anti-X, but the polar opposite position cannot be described as pro-X.  Sounds fair.

At least they are moving away from using the meaningless “pro-choice” label.  While I was in law school, a fellow student in my Constitutional Law class once argued that the government wasn’t “pro-abortion,” it was neutral, and just allowed the “choice.”  I responded, “let’s say the government permitted wanton murder of law students.  Nobody is forced to murder law students.  They are just permitted to murder law students.  Anyone think the law is neutral to law students?”  Nobody responded.

The New Abortion Bailout

March 11, 2010

In a time when we have so much public money to spare, we’ll now be paying for the abortions of the irresponsible:

House leaders have concluded they cannot change a divisive abortion provision in President Barack Obama’s health care bill and will try to pass the sweeping legislation without the support of ardent anti-abortion Democrats.

A break on abortion would remove a major obstacle for Democratic leaders in the final throes of a yearlong effort to change health care in the United States. But it sets up a risky strategy of trying to round up enough Democrats to overcome, not appease, a small but possibly decisive group of Democratic lawmakers in the House.

Democratic leaders are working to rally rank-and-file members around last-minute agreements on several sticking points, health insurance taxes and prescription drug coverage among them, and dozens of other complicated issues — all as Republicans stand ready to oppose the overhaul en masse. 

So bipartisanship doesn’t matter when it’s unnecessary?  I’m shocked.  Shocked I tell you.

Not that this would be as shocking as our funding of rapeforced abortions in China.

I’ve recently spent a fair about of time arguing that the intentional killing of an innocent human life [before or after birth] should always be illegal.  This morning, I stumbled across something very interesting and relevant to the point.

It seems that controversial Princeton bioethics professor Peter Singer has addressed a relevant part of the issue.  Singer is a utilitarian and he takes the common step of arguing that not all human beings are “persons,” and it is only wrong to kill “persons” (where the interest of the person killing outweighs the interest of the non-person).  However, he is extremely honest about the implications of his position:

I use the term “person” to refer to a being who is capable of anticipating the future, of having wants and desires for the future.  As I have said in answer to the previous question, I think that it is generally a greater wrong to kill such a being than it is to kill a being that has no sense of existing over time. Newborn human babies have no sense of their own existence over time. So killing a newborn baby is never equivalent to killing a person, that is, a being who wants to go on living.  That doesn’t mean that it is not almost always a terrible thing to do.  It is, but that is because most infants are loved and cherished by their parents, and to kill an infant is usually to do a great wrong to its parents.
Sometimes, perhaps because the baby has a serious disability, parents think it better that their newborn infant should die. Many doctors will accept their wishes, to the extent of not giving the baby life-supporting medical treatment.  That will often ensure that the baby dies.  My view is different from this, only to the extent that if a decision is taken, by the parents and doctors, that it is better that a baby should die, I believe it should be possible to carry out that decision, not only by withholding or withdrawing life-support – which can lead to the baby dying slowly from dehydration or from an infection – but also by taking active steps to end the baby’s life swiftly and humanely.

[Emphasis added.]

Moreover, Singer addresses the common argument that an unborn baby is neither “alive” nor “human” for the justification of abortion:

[The argument that a fetus is not alive] is a resort to a convenient fiction that turns an evidently living being into one that legally is not alive. Instead of accepting such fictions, we should recognise that the fact that a being is human, and alive, does not in itself tell us whether it is wrong to take that being’s life.

That is the rational result of splitting “personhood” from mere human life.  One can engage in the “fiction” that an unborn child is neither human nor living—a fiction that an apparently infanticidal Princeton professor claims is unsupportable despite having every reason for accepting it if he could—or one can accept occasional infanticide in a utilitarian package deal.  That is a serious commitment to abortion.

Peter Singer is right, unborn human beings are both human and alive, and his argument is further evidence, at least to me, that splitting “human life” from the (wholly invented) concept of “personhood” is a grave wrong (and yet another work of fiction) that leads to such pleasantries as infanticide, not to mention slavery, eugenics, and genocide, where utilitarian ideals would permit that such measures be taken.  Those ugly-sounding practices aren’t so far off if one is able to take “personhood” from a living human being, for whatever reason.

Also note, Peter Singer is no slouch professor throwing out some controversial ideas.  He was integral to the establishment of the International Association for Bioethics and served as its first president.  One can hardly dismiss his argument as the rantings of a hack professor.  The man knows what he is talking about.  He is wrong to adopt utilitarianism, but he is right in taking the concept to its conclusion.  Those who believe in the transcendent principle that the intentional taking of innocent human life is always wrong and should always be illegal can avoid such illusions altogether.

I suppose it shouldn’t surprise us that the Democrats in the Senate want to include abortion mega-funding under the auspices of “health care” and voted to do so.  The interesting thing is that they did so in a manner so as to avoid debate

The Democrats won’t debate it because they know they will lose in the court of public opinion, as demonstrated in various polls.  Indeed, CNN has reported that fully “[s]ix in 10 Americans favor a ban on the use of federal funds for abortion”.  Moreover, in these economic times, I highly doubt that Americans are all that eager to see tax money used to fund elective abortion and line the pockets of Planned Parenthood. 

As word gets out about this, the healthcare bill will be put in jeopardy.  Hopefully word spreads quickly across the blogosphere.

If God commanded you directly by voice from heaven to vote to make wearing red t-shirts illegal (say it’s on the ballot, California referendum style), and you became convinced that God had actually given you such a command, would you vote accordingly?  Just to secure the hypothetical, let’s say that you were with your closest friends and family, including the ones you trust most and the ones who are most skeptical in character, and each of them affirms that he/she heard God give you the command, and you are provided whatever other forms of proof you need to be certain that it was actually the Creator of the Universe who gave you the command (dew on the grass but not on the blanket, a staff turning into a snake, burning bush, water into wine, and whatever else you want).  Again, would you vote according to the command?  (You need not assume that it’s the Christian God giving you the command; just some ultimate creator.)

If your answer to the question is “yes,” it seems to me that you are therefore willing to enforce your religious convictions in a political manner upon others, consistent with your (practically undeniable) belief in God and His command, regardless of whether anybody else had any insight into your knowledge of the command obtained through direct revelation.  It probably wouldn’t much matter to you that others happen to disagree about whether you had been given the command, or even if they thought you were crazy.  You were given a direct insight from God and a command, and you chose to obey.  (Note: this is only because God hypothetically commanded you to, and I am not setting forth the argument–at least not in this post–that in reality, God has in fact commanded you to vote in any particular way on red t-shirts or any other issue.  That’s for another post.)

If your answer to the question is “no”, then it seems you aren’t really all that willing to obey God (or else you doubt your sanity).  You place your politics or personal judgments ahead of God Himself, which is to say that you are ultimately faithful not to God, but to the state and/or your own fallible judgment.  In short, you are deliberately and knowingly unfaithful.

Now replace “red t-shirts” with abortion.  Maybe God has commanded people to oppose abortion, or maybe He hasn’t, but if a person in good conscience believes that God wants him or her to politically oppose abortion, he or she is perfectly entitled (perhaps even obligated) to do so, even on religious grounds.  The appropriate response to that position for the pro-choice person is not to spit on the freedom of religious conviction and the free exercise thereof by demanding that people keep their religion to themselves, but rather to discuss whether God actually does require them to oppose abortion.  And that will bring us squarely to a religious discussion about politics.  Suddenly the lines don’t seem so clear. 

I came up with this little hypothetical at one minute shy of midnight, which is rather late for me.  Perhaps I’ve committed some fallacy.  But I’m very curious how one would respond to my brief argument (one conclusion being that if your religion requires certain political action and you reject, even oppose, that political action, you deny your faith).

To be clear, I am not a Roman Catholic.  Nevertheless, I am not shy about drawing from the deep well of Catholic teaching prohibiting abortion or the legalization thereof. 

I recently received word of a ghastly organization, “Catholics For Choice“.  It should be noted that this is not a Catholic organization, and in fact, claims to represent “the [alleged] great majority of the faithful in the Catholic church who disagrees with the dictates of the Vatican on matters related to sex, marriage, family life and motherhood.”  Seems sort of silly to call such an entity a Catholic organization at all, since it opposes a rather major mission of the Church, not to mention its authority, which is sort of a big deal in the Catholic Church.

Read the rest of this entry »