EPHN: A Right to Life?

Part 3 of a series of posts defining the Emergent Principles of Human Nature. This effort is an outgrowth of a challenge issued to me ages ago by a fellow libertarian that I explain inalienable rights without including god. Like most challenges of this type, the work is larger than the speaker or hearer understands at the time.


A Right to Life. What does that phrase mean? It’s patently obvious that an individual can’t claim an unlimited right to continue existing. Nature itself fails by comparison to infinite existence, since life as we know it on this planet did have a beginning and will have an ending. Life as we know it is the closest thing to nature, or natural, that can be said to exist at all.

Individual lives are far more transitory than the multi-billion years of life as we know it. Life as we can scientifically determine has existed on this planet. Life that will continue into the unknown and unknowable future. Life that will (hopefully) continue in an unbroken chain until the sun turns into a red giant and consumes everything inside the orbit of the planet Mars some billions of years in the future.

Did any of the individuals that came before us in that four billion year chain that lead to your existence have a right to live? A right to life? They all lived, from the crude beginnings of genetic coding to the first multi-celled organisms to the primates that lead to the human beings that were your parents, all of them lived and bred and passed on their life or you wouldn’t be here. Did any of them have a right to their existence? Is that right manifested here through your existence alone?

Do the children you produce have a right to live, a right to life? Your friends?Your neighbors? Does the person dying of cancer have a right to life? The starving person, the homeless person, the person lying out in the cold on a freezing winter night? Do they have a right to life? Why aren’t we compelled to help them? Why do they die, if they have a right to life? You too will die, we all will die. Do we have a right to life?

If rights are a thing that can’t be revoked, and yet life itself abandons the physical body, can there realistically be a thing called a right to life? It is an open question, in my estimation.

Human life is different, I hear you saying, human life is precious. You are right, human life is different. I don’t know that I would go so far as to say it is precious considering how we treat the needy among us, but human life is demonstrably different from any other kind of life on this planet that has ever existed before, in spite of the common ancestry we share with all other forms of life we have ever found. From a scientific perspective, we are the first creature that has modified its environment to such an extent that the impact of our habitation on Earth could well wipe out all traces of previous life and permanently alter the planet in the process, requiring the Earth itself to regenerate the life-sustaining envelope we currently enjoy today.

We have probably already entered the next era of Earth’s evolution. The Anthropocene is still in its proposal stages in the halls of science, but there is little doubt remaining that we have crossed the boundary into the human-created environment, for better or for worse. So we are different than other forms of life on the planet. But do we have a right to this life?

It is a mistake to start a list of rights with a right to life beyond the basic observation that taking the life of another person negates one’s own right to continue existing in the eyes of your peers. Again, this is demonstrable. The knee-jerk abortion protests and the outrage over euthanasia practices illustrates this fact as well. We want to exist. We want to exist for as long as we can maintain that existence in a fashion that is acceptable to our own vague notions of normal existence.

Abortion frightens those who see it as ending a life. They see it as a retroactive threat to their own lives, a cheat that allows the sexually permissive to go free. This is why the anti-abortion movement turns into the anti-sex movement as soon as it feels that it has established the beachhead of ending abortion. This is why they are now trying to end the use of contraceptives and other family planning practices. In their eyes, sex is for procreation only. The sex that other people engage in, at least.

Euthanasia is a far more personal threat. Everyone who exists, lives, will die. Tomorrow or several centuries from now, all of us will be gone at some point. Even these words set down in a permanent form of expression will cease to exist, to have meaning. Euthanasia ends that personal existence before its natural time. It is the bookend to abortion, in the eyes of a believer. Abortion ends life before it starts, euthanasia ends life before it is supposed to end, naturally.

However, most people do not understand what nature is. Nature is not just precious life, but cruel slavery of the living of one species, for their use by another species. This happens in the animal world as well as the human world. It is the nature of existence. Energy for continuing life must be harvested from somewhere, and that means killing something in order to continue existing. Did the cow that was turned into your hamburger have a right to life? Cows are mammals. They share a huge amount of genetic code with humans because of this fact. Shouldn’t all mammals have a right to life?

You might go for that argument and respond in the positive to it. Let’s go further out on the limb. How about the plants and insects that we consume. They are alive. Insects are even mobile and have primitive brains. Don’t they have a right to life? What will we use to continue our own lives if all forms of food are considered forbidden to eat because of the impact that will have on the sanctity of life?

This is the mistake of a fundamental right to life laid bare. We have no problem at all with taking the life of other living things, even other humans. To our credit, we have become less violent over the centuries. You can’t walk out into public and just start killing people without facing negative consequences for your actions. Acting under the color of authority does give cover for a substantial number of sociopathic tendencies. Wars kill thousands of people, sometimes hundreds of thousands in an instant. Because wars are conducted under the authority of governments, we allow these massive losses of life to go unpunished.

The police are routinely forgiven for killing the defenseless by accident. They are granted the right to use deadly force, and some accidents will happen. Did the person killed accidentally by the police have a right to life?

The state conducting executions in the town square strikes most people as insane or barbaric in Western countries, today. But it was a common practice throughout the world in previous centuries and there are some countries that still practice public executions. No one questions the legitimacy of the threat embodied in a hogtied victim that is the scapegoat for some reviled behavior or other, but the person is just as dead in the end whether he represented a legitimate threat or not. Do they have a right to life? Why not?

These examples are the kinds of reasons that historical lists of rights start with a right to life, not the reasons that are bandied about today. Abortion and euthanasia are commonplace in nature. Nature is survival of the fittest in the most personal form imaginable. Abortion and euthanasia were so commonplace in previous centuries as to be completely brushed aside by the average observer. The elderly were allowed to die, to take the long walk, because we couldn’t afford to feed them anymore without threatening our own existence directly. The mammalian body will re-absorb or miscarry young that threaten the life of the mother, or the pregnancy will kill her. A human female who has children that she can’t feed would, and in some countries still do, simply leave the young exposed for predators or the weather to kill. These were far more common as occurrences than public hangings were. Every family would have experienced at least one of these once a generation until the modern age.

People are born, people will die. When do they begin to have a right to life? When does it begin?

…Consciousness requires a sophisticated network of highly interconnected components, nerve cells. Its physical substrate, the thalamo-cortical complex that provides consciousness with its highly elaborate content, begins to be in place between the 24th and 28th week of gestation. Roughly two months later synchrony of the electroencephalographic (EEG) rhythm across both cortical hemispheres signals the onset of global neuronal integration. Thus, many of the circuit elements necessary for consciousness are in place by the third trimester. By this time, preterm infants can survive outside the womb under proper medical care. And as it is so much easier to observe and interact with a preterm baby than with a fetus of the same gestational age in the womb, the fetus is often considered to be like a preterm baby, like an unborn newborn. But this notion disregards the unique uterine environment: suspended in a warm and dark cave, connected to the placenta that pumps blood, nutrients and hormones into its growing body and brain, the fetus is asleep.

Scientific American

When does it expire? Why does it expire?

the complete and permanent loss of brain function as defined by an unresponsive coma with loss of capacity for consciousness, brainstem reflexes, and the ability to breathe independently.

livescience.com

As far as EPHN would be concerned the first principle wouldn’t be life. The first principle is speech. Speech defines us to each other and to ourselves.  In some far-off future it’s easy to imagine that human life as we know it might not even be a requirement. Allowing for the granting of legal rights not only to qualifying AI but limited rights to higher level mammals capable of communicating. Speech defines who we are and what we know.

Without life there is no behavior.  Without behavior there aren’t any patterns to be analyzed.  There cannot be rights or Emergent Principles of Human Nature if there isn’t human life.  This problem is far more difficult to tease apart than any of the various ideologies crafted to grapple with it actually take into account. The many failings of the human animal listed in previous articles on the subject of EPHN all impact this problem. Perception is largely credited by the observer as being reality and yet perception is at best subjective or anecdotal.

Part of our mental dealings with the world around us involves assigning agency, purpose, to the things we interact with. This process is all but unavoidable.  The term for this process is Anthropomorphism. Try interacting with your pets without crediting them with human emotion, human motivation. The weather is frequently imbued with agency, as if the air currents that crash into each other actually think about dumping water in one place and not another.  If you stub your toe on a rock, you are likely to blame the rock for existing in that location rather than admit your own clumsiness, your gaps in perception that allowed the collision in the first place.

All manner of events in life are credited with consciousness, with agency, completely in error. Why would it be surprising then for someone to assign agency to a form, specifically the human form? Believers of various stripes credit their religious statues with agency.  What is clearly a construct of stone or metal can be said, even by non-believers, to project emotion. Art by its own definition should make you feel emotion, or it isn’t art in the judgement of the individual. But the emotion comes from within the observer, not from within the object. The statues are not happy or sad, joyous or vengeful, they evoke the emotion in the observer; they are crafted that way by human hands specifically in the hopes of garnering that emotional response.

Statues do not shed tears, do not bleed. Test after test reveals that contrary claims by the religious are baseless and there are many of these kinds of claims. Statues are constructs, devoid of agency, unlike a biological human form. What then of the form that does bleed or shed tears, is that human life? Not necessarily. Form is just the physical component of human life. Are amputees less human because their forms are not perfect? Are ugly people less human than pretty people? Of course not. There is something else, something in addition to the form which imbues the form with that thing we deem human life.

That elusive thing is consciousness. It is so elusive that we’ve only recently been able to detect its presence. We’ve only recently been able to attempt to describe what it is. It is there when you are awake and to some limited extent it is even present while you are sleeping, and it is gone when the body ceases to function normally. Without consciousness you are not you and I am not me. Consciousness defines human life and human principles, and without consciousness no concepts or conceptualizations are possible.

Consciousness coupled to memory, embedded in a recognizably human physical form capable of fulfilling the requirements for maintaining life. That is what creates the possibility for human behavior to occur, to be studied for patterns which can yield an understanding of the underlying principles that govern human interactions. Consciousness is the defining characteristic of human life, it is what makes everything else that we do possible. Life itself is not the basis of rights or principles, consciousness is. Speech is how we express what our consciousness perceives, which is why speech is the first Emergent Principle. Without speech we are even less than the other animals. Without the ability to speak our minds, we are not free in any real sense of the word.

Judging by the degree of those women’s intensity, I would say that it is an issue of self-esteem and that their fear is metaphysical. Their hatred is directed against human beings as such, against the mind, against reason, against ambition, against success, against love, against any value that brings happiness to human life. In compliance with the dishonesty that dominates today’s intellectual field, they call themselves “pro-life.”

Ayn Rand

Featured image: Michelangelo Creation of Adam

PETA Wants to Kill Your Dog

PETA does not believe in keeping pets. Pets of any kind. Animals are free and pets are slaves. Essentially they want to eliminate all forms of dogs and cats that cannot live on their own in the wild, as well as get rid of all farm animals and force us all to be vegans. I have no more use for PETA than I have for any other ideologue who wants to make me do things the way they think it should be done.

The dogs in question are not slaves, and they for goddamned sure weren’t harmed by their owners or the race itself. They were attacked by a drunk. Dogs are a musher’s entire life. I KNOW these people, Aliy Zirkle is a friend of mine and you only have to watch the interviews with her and a tearful Jeff King to see how devastated they are by the threat to their dogs.

Stonekettle

This article on The Atlantic entitled PETA’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad History of Killing Animals digs deep into PETA’s deplorable track record when it comes to living up to their own ideals, the ideals that the crucify every other pet-owning person on the face of the planet,

In 2011, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) behaved in a regrettably consistent manner: it euthanized the overwhelming majority of dogs and cats that it accepted into its shelters. Out of 760 dogs impounded, they killed 713, arranged for 19 to be adopted, and farmed out 36 to other shelters (not necessarily “no kill” ones). As for cats, they impounded 1,211, euthanized 1,198, transferred eight, and found homes for a grand total of five. PETA also took in 58 other companion animals — including rabbits. It killed 54 of them.

These figures don’t reflect well on an organization dedicated to the cause of animal rights. Even acknowledging that PETA sterilized over 10,500 dogs and cats and returned them to their owners, it doesn’t change the fact that its adoption rate in 2011 was 2.5 percent for dogs and 0.4 for cats. Even acknowledging that PETA never turns an animal away — “the sick, the scarred and broken, the elderly, the aggressive and unsocialized…” — doesn’t change the fact that Virginia animal shelters as a whole had a much lower kill rate of 44 percent. And even acknowledging that PETA is often the first to rescue pets when heat waves and hurricanes hit, that doesn’t change the fact that, at one of its shelters, it kills 84 percent of supposedly “unadoptable” animals within 24 hours of their arrival.

theatlantic.com

My answer to PETA is NO. Forever and always NO. Now get out of my face PETA scum. I have actual important work to get done.

The Ethics of Brain Death

I’ve been meaning to post on this subject for a few weeks now. Abortion politics has bleed over into end of life decisions, clouding the issue of what life is or isn’t as established by science and medical practice.

There is a medical phrase which communicates when a human body no longer has the capability of generating human consciousness.  That phrase is brain death. Experiencing brain death is to cease to exist even though the physical form is still present. It doesn’t even take brain death to alter a person into someone else, as numerous articles on the subject have discussed, and destroying someone’s brain in order to control them or alter them is rightly considered a crime unless engaged in for reasons of justice or life-saving intervention. Should even those instances be outlawed, because they kill a person, creating a new person? The brain is the seat of consciousness, the basis upon which human life is generated.

As Arthur Caplan discusses with Lindsay Beyerstein on Point of Inquiry, The Ethics of Brain Death: The End of Life, the State, and the Religious Right.

The family of a 13-year-old California girl who was declared brain-dead after suffering complications from sleep apnea surgery has secured for her the feeding and breathing tubes for which they had been fighting.

Christopher Dolan, the attorney for the girl’s family, said doctors inserted the gastric tube and tracheostomy tube Wednesday at the undisclosed facility where Jahi McMath was taken on 5 January.

The procedure was a success, Dolan said, and Jahi is getting the treatment that her family believes she should have received 28 days ago, when doctors at Children’s Hospital Oakland first declared her brain-dead.

Jahi underwent tonsil surgery 9 December, then began bleeding heavily before going into cardiac arrest and being declared brain dead on 12 December.

Her mother has refused to believe Jahi is dead and went to court to prevent her daughter from being taken off a ventilator.

The Guardian, Family of brain-dead California girl

In that episode of Point of Inquiry he points out that the case of Jahi McMath represents a potential violation of ethics for the doctors involved, since the child in question has been pronounced dead by clinicians in the state. Has been pronounced dead, but remains on life support until current day (she has since been taken off of life support and buried. The family wants her date of death to be revised. –ed.)

He also talks about the Marlise Machado Muñoz case (NPR story) in which Pro-Life Republicans in Texas have crafted laws that keep this woman’s body alive, costing the hospital thousands of dollars daily, on the off-chance that the fetus she died carrying isn’t also damaged (and it looks like it is) so the cost is quite literally wasted. Someone else needs the space that her corpse is kept in and will possibly die because of this farce.

Facebook.

Boston Legal, Jury Nullification, Euthanasia

Speaking of Boston Legal (I was) the episode “Live Big” (that aired on the 21st) features Alan Shore once again on the horns of an ethical dilemma. His client granted his Alzheimer’s afflicted wife’s request to have her life terminated.

I love watching James Spader’s characterization of Alan Shore. He’s so wonderfully dry. The contrasting relationship with bombastic ‘Denny Crane’ (William Shatner) makes an excellent sounding board (and vice versa) for discussion points within the episode.

Denny Crane: That’s how dad went. Morphine drip.
Alan Shore: How did you get the doctor to do it?
Denny Crane: “Denny Crane”. It was the real thing then.

Spader’s ‘Shore’ is clearly uncomfortable with the whole subject, but he believes that his client should not be labeled a criminal, and bases his closing argument on that very basic fact.

The A.D.A.’s argument amounts to: he broke the law, he’s a criminal, and we can’t afford to start down the slippery slope of allowing assisted suicide, what happens when people start getting rid of the old, sick people they just don’t want around anymore.

Shore’s argument goes like this:

The dirty little secret is; we went down that slope, years ago. Officially we say we’re against assisted suicide; but it goes on, all the time. 70% of all deaths in hospitals are due to decisions to let patients die. Whether it’s morphine drips or respirators, hydration tubes. With all due respect to the Terry Schiavo fanfare, patients are assisted with death, all across the country, all the time.

As for regulating motive, here’s a thought, investigate it. if we suspect foul play have the police ask questions, if it smells funny, prosecute.

But here, there is no suggestion that Mr. Myerson’s motive was anything other than to satisfy his wifes wishes and spare her the extreme indignity of the rotting of her brain. Can you imagine? Would you want to live like that?

I had a dog for 12 years. His name was Allen. That was his name when I got him. He had cancer in the end. That, in conjunction with severe hip dysplasia, and he was in unbearable pain. My vet recommended, and I agreed, to euthanize him. It was ‘humane’ which we as society endeavor to be, for animals.

My client’s act was a humane one. It was a sorrowful one. Mrs. Myerson’s nurse testified as to the profound love that Ryan Myerson had for his wife. Sometimes the ultimate act of love and kindness…

If you think this man is a criminal send him to jail. If you don’t, don’t.

His client is, of course, acquitted. A classic case of jury nullification, a legitimate finding by the jury that the law was wrongly applied in this instance.

Another example of why I love the show evolves afterwards. Once again in a conversation between Denny and Alan, the nature of “who’s life is it anyway” is explored. An excellent conclusion to the episode, and what I’ve come to expect from the show.

Looking forward to tonight’s episode.