In “The Silent Scream of the Apsparagus,” old-fashioned liberal and publisher Wesley J. Smith charts the course of “rights” to its inevitable conclusion: plant rights, at least in Switzerland:
A few years ago the Swiss added to their national constitution a provision requiring “account to be taken of the dignity of creation when handling animals, plants and other organisms.” No one knew exactly what it meant, so they asked the Swiss Federal Ethics Committee on Non-Human Biotechnology to figure it out. The resulting report, “The Dignity of Living Beings with Regard to Plants,” is enough to short circuit the brain.
A “clear majority” of the panel adopted what it called a “biocentric” moral view, meaning that “living organisms should be considered morally for their own sake because they are alive.” Thus, the panel determined that we cannot claim “absolute ownership” over plants and, moreover, that “individual plants have an inherent worth.” This means that “we may not use them just as we please, even if the plant community is not in danger, or if our actions do not endanger the species, or if we are not acting arbitrarily.”
The committee offered this illustration: A farmer mows his field (apparently an acceptable action, perhaps because the hay is intended to feed the farmer’s herd–the report doesn’t say). But then, while walking home, he casually “decapitates” some wildflowers with his scythe. The panel decries this act as immoral, though its members can’t agree why. The report states, opaquely:
“At this point it remains unclear whether this action is condemned because it expresses a particular moral stance of the farmer toward other organisms or because something bad is being done to the flowers themselves.”
What is clear, however, is that Switzerland’s enshrining of “plant dignity” is a symptom of a cultural disease that has infected Western civilization, causing us to lose the ability to think critically and distinguish serious from frivolous ethical concerns.
Friends who freak out over how crazy all this is are, I believe, missing the point. It’s not crazy at all if you keep one thing in mind: Someone must be paid full time to enforce the many new rules.
Yes, all these new “rights” schemes have two things in common: (1) They vastly expand government power and (2) consequently, they provide jobs for people who consider a day wasted when they aren’t bossing others around.
When I was young, there were three very important rules regarding plant life, that were taught to everyone through school and civic groups:
1. Don’t start forest fires.
2. Don’t steal native plants from Crown land.
3. Kill identified invasive species on your own property promptly.
The laws governing these rules were clear, and easy to learn and enforce – without turning the country into a police state.
Come da future, if the Swiss ethics’ czars’ ideas catch on, the Canadian government will end up paying huge reparations to trusts started on behalf of dandelions, hogweed, and quackgrass. My guess is that humans, not weeds, will spend the money. Which brings me back to my point:
Proposed new rules about plant rights require everyone to constantly wonder if minor decisions and actions on their own land conform to some ethical standard identified by government. Their purpose is in fact to take over people’s minds, whether on their own property or on public property. Eventually, there will be a little police station in everyone’s head, as a Chinese intellectual freedom activist once explained the citizen’s subseuqent plight to me.
I am far more concerned about that aspect of things than about the specific content of the rules.
The same goes for “ape rights.” Many research studies on apes are cruel and should be forbidden.
I am thinking of studies that deprive the ape of freedom and force him to spend hours learning useless information like human-derived symbol systems in order to prove that apes think like people. Apes don’t, of course, think like people, and almost any use of their time would be better for them than that sort of thing.
However, when we give the ape “rights”, what are we really doing? We are really giving a group of people the right to farm the apes for income (by claiming to act for them), over against the researcher who wants to farm them a different way (by claiming to advance science through experiments with them).
Neither group benefits the ape (for whom the only real benefit would be to be left alone).
But the second group is more dangerous because its real purpose is to acquire new government-backed power over other humans, whether they actually behave humanely toward apes or not.
This much I know is true: More power to such groups is very unlikely to translate into a more natural lifestyle for the animals and plants they represent, because their income depends on being co-dependent with ongoing problems.
We are dealing with lots and lots of that in Canada these days, with the shadow justice system of our “human rights” commissions, which openly see traditional civil rights as a menace to their goals.
Also: Five new posts on controversial new science findings at the Design of Life blog
1. Goodbye GATTACA: Environment and lifestyle affect which genes are actually expressed
The genes that matter are the ones that are expressed. A recent North Caroline State University study of North African Berbers showed that which breathing-related genes were expressed depended in large part on whether the individual is living an urban, rural, or nomadic lifestyle. Vince Freeman, the genetically troubled hero of GATTACA (1997), need not rely only on determination. He has other heavy hitters on his team too, as it turns out. Genes “R” Not Us.
Go here for more.
2. Junk DNA – oops, non-coding DNA – less junky than ever but still expected to fit the “frame”
Junk DNA has sure come up in the world: From Dawkins’s “sea of nonsense” to increasingly biologically important – but somehow it is still supposed to support the conventional explanations.
One consequence of growing efforts to “frame” science is that readers of reports on new research must be skilled at seeing past elaborate frames, in order to discern findings. For more, go here.
3. Cutting edge science: Cambrian explosion ecosystems organized themselves pretty much the way ecosystems do today, and not everyone is pleased to hear that … (because it implies that there may be underlying patterns and laws within nature that are not merely incidental and mechanistic).
4. Natural selection: Mutation protects against malaria – at a steep cost. (A recent study supports Mike Behe’s observation in Edge of Evolution that the protections against malaria that evolve through natural selection acting on random mutations (Darwin’s mechanism) – apart from being few and far between – tend to come with serious problems. DON’T trust evolution to solve your problems!
5. Human evolution: Shape of early human teeth fails to predict actual diet, study finds.
“A recent study by anthropologist Peter Ungar of the University of Arkansas and colleagues has challenged the conventional way that anthropologists determine what early humans and human ancestors ate. Apparently, they didn’t necessarily eat what they ‘should have.'” So there is a lot we cannot predict about early human diets. For more, go here.