Of Rights and Wrongs
By Chris Wilson
At first glance this area seems to be very simple. We all know what is right and wrong, such knowledge is as instinctive and as easy as shelling peas, and all decent people recognise both the natural and technical rights of man. It is all so obvious that the chapter might as well end here. Oh that it were so simple, our lives, our daily actions, and our minds, would lie at peace in harmony with all life around us, but look around, are our lives ever so peaceful, and by our actions, does harmony really rule the world? In this chapter three areas will be assessed. First is the concept of right and wrong, second the notion of human rights, and finally the relationship between man-made and a natural law.
Lets begin at base camp and look at the concepts of right and wrong. Do they exist in the real world, or are such values purely a matter of expediency and convenience by which we can pacify a potentially troubled mind? I would say the second statement is true, no matter how uncomfortable such a stance may be, and in support of my position, I would argue the following. If somebody were to give you a fully accredited sample of water you could state with a high degree of certainty that it was water, and it would remain so unless subsequent chemical alteration occurred. It might be given to you in a variety of forms e.g. ice, steam, sleet, or snow, but regardless of form the chemical composition it would still be the same, regardless of time place or circumstance. So far so good, but just try and apply such accreditation procedure to the concept of right and wrong and see where it leaves you.
Once you remove the once certain, but now debated notion, that water is necessary for life to occur, does that leave you with anything at all? If something is to be considered right or wrong, should it not be so for all time, and for all people, regardless of individual persuasion or preference? If this is so, and lets be honest, that’s what most of us believe to be true, can we really be certain of anything? Even if we take a couple of quick examples, problems soon arise. First the idea that killing something or somebody is wrong, how does that stand up to scrutiny? Not very well, for what of the mother defending her child, or death due to defence or enlargement of your realm or ideal? Do we wish to eat and in doing so should we consider the plight of the animal or living form we are about to consume? A second example could be the assertion that theft or unlawful acquisition is wrong, and once again such an idea falls to one side. Do we always consider the full ramifications of ownership when we take from nature around us, and are such rules of acquisition the same for all time? Nature has no such scruples, eat or be eaten, grab what you can or die, that’s her rule, and as we are part of nature should we not quietly fall in line?
Technically and theoretically it could be argued that we should be guided by such natural criteria, but once more arrogance and wilful blindness cloud our judgement, and we step beyond nature to an ever-greater degree. We talk of human rights and in doing so we assert an alleged dominance and preference over all other life on earth, and we claim certain privileges within life cycle that few, if any, other life forms could possibly hope to obtain. This might sound harsh but even when you look at basic survival needs unwarranted pride kicks in. We claim we have the right to clean water, food, security, warmth, and reproductive territory, yet cheerfully deny such right to all life around us. We do not stop there, for if we further claim the right to free thought, free speech, and a host of other noble if slightly, or wholly unrealistic dreams, should we not share such dreams with the natural world around us? Free speech and free thought will be looked at later on in this chapter but lets begin with probably the most basic of all human rights that we believe in.
We all believe we have the right to life, but how willing are we to share this right with the rest of life around us, and how aware are we of the consequences such sharing process might bring. Take, for example the situation of a young gazelle trapped in the jaws of a lion, just before it becomes a midday meal on the bone. Should the gazelles right to life be protected, or enshrined in law, and should such rights be relayed to the lion? If so what of the lions right to acquire its natural food in order to survive, should that be protected despite any terminal discomfort to its prey? Should both parties be allowed to air their desires or grievances before a properly appointed mediator, so that a fair and balanced resolution might be achieved?
Within such a framework freedom of expression would have to be given to all parties directly involved, as well as any other closely related parties or individuals. A suitable appeal system would have to be created so as to ensure justice is really done. All parties must have access to a court of animal rights, both locally and internationally, and all judgements would have to be recorded in regional and central archives so that precedents can be registered, recorded, and recognised. Finally animal rights legislation would have to be formulated, and any animal breaking such legislation would have to be detained, tried, and either punished or exonerated of all charges depending on the final judgement; whatever that may be.
By this time the gazelle would, of course, be no more than a chunk of partially digested flesh in the belly of the lion, whilst the lion would just be looking at us with quiet disdain, but can you imagine the absurdity of putting the lion in the dock on a charge of murder? Who would we choose as a judge, what of the prosecution and defence team, the witnesses, and how on earth could you ensure and informed yet unbiased independent jury? Just think of the interchange in the courtroom once the charge of murder had been read to the prisoner in the dock. What language should be spoken, and should fully accredited interpreters be mandatory, both for the defence and prosecution teams, and in the case of the lion, or the relatives of the gazelle, where are such interpreters to be sourced? How would you address a lion, what book should he swear upon, and what charges should be laid before him?
Possibly “animalslaughter”, grievous bodily harm, murder, or maybe a denial of animal rights. If this could ever occur, I would love to hear the lion state he was just feeling hungry at the time! Why you might even have to seek the services of an animal psychologist of a professional animal social worker, and a professional court adjudicator to rule on political: sorry: animal, correctness, within the trial. Finally you might decide to have a public gallery, after all justice must be seen to be done. Just imagine the scene, lions on one side, gazelles on the other, both bellowing support or derision for the bloated, if quite nutritionally satisfied, figure in the dock, with an assorted animal menagerie nervously sandwiched between the two. This, of course, would seem to be no more than a wonderful flight of fancy, but if truth be told is it that far from reality? What of our own legalities, how far are they really in touch with the natural world around us, and have they any more credence than the characters in our pleasant, if somewhat ludicrous, dream?
Up until now I have ridiculed the law, by introducing lions, gazelles, and heavens only knows what into its sacred confines, and I apologise, to a degree, to any legal officer or professional who might be reading my words. Such words have been spoken in jest, but such merriment hides a far more serious issue. Not all laws in history have been formed with the interest of the broader community in mind, but, on the whole, the purpose of a legislative body is to create framework by which a given society can function at a given time, and under a generally agreed rationale. This would seem to be admirable principle were it not for one very basic but hugely significant problem. If you are designing a product, any product of any size shape or dimension, you will never succeed in your aims if the base components are inherently and irrevocably flawed. We might cover our product in all kinds of clothing, and support our object or idea with all manner of ceremonial pomp or rhetorical prose, but come what may our product can never, and will never, succeed. Our product is the legal system, and trying to run such a system, is akin to running an information led computer program.
If we feed in decent information, get a decent computer operator to run the programme, use a decent computer, them carefully implement any recommended solutions, then we should be ok. What happens though if the data is decidedly suspect, the operator even more so, the computer itself has been adulterated over hundreds of years, and once given the results we mess up any implementation. Might not such a scenario sum up our own, or any legal system, and if so, where does that leave us? Flying a plane on a wing on a prayer maybe, or do we simply find ourselves stuck in a proverbial pig farm? How many of us, as children, have been taught that you can’t make a silk purse from a sows ear, yet isn’t that precisely what we try and do now, as well as trying to act as judge and jury all at the same time? Furthermore the more we drift from our natural selves, the more we try to hang on to what we have, yet in doing so we move further away. It is similar to watching an alcoholic who cannot hold his condition at bay. He cannot do without alcohol so he consumes some more. That weakens him further, leading to the need for a bigger shot until he is beyond help or repair. Eventually, unless help arrives, he sinks into oblivion and finally dies; probably still denying he has a problem of course. For us our help lies within our minds, but as we seem unable, or unwilling, to access or accept that help, we too, might eventually end up in the grave. Oh we might think we can fight and even beat nature, but we are part of nature, so if we desire to beat or destroy nature do we not destroy ourselves?
How can this be best demonstrated, well how about a simple case of theft. A homeless mother has a child who is in desperate need of food. Without food that child will die, but the mother has no means by which she can obtain food other than theft. She sees a loaf of bread, she steals the bread, but in doing so she is apprehended by the shopkeeper, who then calls the police. She is arrested and then charged with theft. So far so good, but has she committed a crime, or should the health of her child come first? If nature could speak she would put the child first and, at first glance, absolve the mother of her alleged crime, but what if the theft of that loaf led to the malnutrition of the shopkeepers child, and in time the death of that second child? What crime, if any, might the woman be charged with then? The woman, if brought to court, might claim ignorance of the second child’s underlying medical condition, and state that, in accordance with natural law, her child’s health should come first. The shopkeeper, on hearing such a claim, might state, with some justification, that though he was sorry for the mother’s plight, and her poverty, her son’s health was not his responsibility. Then he might ask who was going to recompense him for his dead child?
At this point nature would probably stand in silence, looking at the judiciary with some interest, as, for her, no rule had been broken. Survival of the fittest had occurred, and artificial man made niceties were quite simply not of her concern. The court however would be in a far more difficult position, as an impossible situation would lie before them, as both appropriate legality, and human rights allocations, would inevitably be involved. Whose rights would claim precedence under such circumstances, how could the court decide when only one life could be sustained? If a judgement were to be made, and it would have to be made, what precedent would be set, and how should such a precedent be applied and regulated over an unknown period of time? It could be argued that ultimately we are the ones who put such judiciary and legal systems in place by the power of our vote, so should we decide which system of justice should be employed? Go back a few hundred years and the woman in question might have been hanged or deported, and her child potentially left to starve.
Is this a level of justice and punishment to which we should aspire? Probably not, but if we adopt a more sympathetic approach, the case will still lie before us unresolved. Let us assume though a verdict is achieved, whichever way it might go, what lies beyond such a judgement? Possibly a court of appeal, maybe an official local or government review, and potentially a major international retrial through the international courts of human rights, let alone any appeals from then on. All this because human law was placed over and above natural law, all this because we cannot accept who or what we really are.
Currently the legal system supports itself, in all its intricacy and detailed grandeur; but for how long can this continue? We have already described the legal system to a building with poor underlying foundations, so what happens when such a building increases in height and girth, while steadily weakening at it’s base? Eventually the building collapses and so will our justice system, and where will we be then? Bereft or short on both natural instinct and survival skills, could we cope with the social breakdown and anarchy that must surely occur? We seemingly cannot cope now with such a system in place; God help us all if such a system should come crashing down.
So it is that we find ourselves hopelessly entangled in a legal and human rights quandary that seems to be beyond our capabilities to solve. If we cannot balance the books with something as basic as the right to life what happens when we venture into areas that only have substance within the mind. Examples of such areas are legion, but lets look at the areas of free thought and speech, how much of a quandary emerges here. At first glance everything seems fine. We all feel we have the right to speak freely and to hold, and express, opinions that we feel are ours and ours alone, so under such circumstances how can any problems arise. Problems soon arise however, for how often do we speak or express our views in a vacuum, do we not generally wish to express our views to others, just as I am doing at this time? We all hold different opinions so when we begin to speak do we not often come into conflict with each other? When this occurs, either singly or communally, who has the greater right to free speech or whose opinion should be given greater credence?
If suppression of views is to be accepted who is to make that particular judgemental call? Is it easy to find examples where such difficulties emerge, oh yes it is all too easy. Let’s look at a scenario where two people are alone in a room, and where they are having a discussion or an argument about a chosen topic of their choice. In this particular case neither can claim seniority, and though the topic is of mutual interest or concern the views they hold are diametrically opposed. Finally the views both hold are not in violation of any law or any accepted social code, but such are their views that only one or other can be accepted for the issue to be resolved. Under such circumstances whose voice or whose views should be given final credence, and how is such a result actually going to be achieved. Technically we could say to both parties, that though they are directly opposed as regards their opinions, it is of no concern for if they both have the right to free speech and thought, their views must also be given equal validation. In practical terms though this is seldom the case and it only gets worse once larger social issues impact upon our lives.
What if pro life and pro-abortion groups were to meet face-to-face, or what if intensely antagonistic religious groups were to encounter each other? Whose rights are to be protected, and do we really have any answers when such flashpoints occur?
Occasionally common sense can prevail, but more often or not do we not simply attempt to isolate one group from the other? If we cannot do so is it not the group with the bigger voice or the mainstream view that often prevails? Under such conditions we deal with both groups as if they were a pair of bad tempered children who are demanding our support or attention. We either try to silence them and tell them to go away, or take the side of one or other of the kids, but what ever we decide to do, free speech and personal opinion fly out of the window never to return. So it is that we go through life desperately trying to maintain codes of behavioural conduct that, though great in theory, are impossible to realise and maintain in real life. What is the result of such endeavours?
Why we agonise, we groan, we fervently beat our breasts, and we continually bleat that such dilemmas simply should not occur. We look at things that are inevitable, but still castigate our minds and bodies in a vain attempt to achieve such impossible goals. If we saw such actions in any other animal, would we not think them insane or at the very least somewhat absurd; and why should we forgive ourselves when we show such potential stupidity? Going further still think of the time we waste while we are following such a course of action. Think of all the things we could be controlling while we chase such pointless dreams. We may feel good when we express our opinions, and congratulate ourselves of our concern for what ever we are addressing, but all the time nature marches on, ignoring us as we self-indulgently wallow or sink in the mire
The amazing thing is that we are still here, and that despite such difficulties we do manage to live and regulate our lives, and this does at least demonstrate our almost unlimited endurance and adaptability in the face of seemingly impossible odds. So far the discussion has been slightly academic, especially in this and the previous chapter, but now we can bring all such elements together as we move along life’s very peculiar journey How do such factors affect our lives, I would say totally so, and soon we will move onto lighter and more enjoyable areas. Before we do though there is a storm brewing for if we are to truly operate as a balanced society we need to address one very serious issue that is increasingly affecting us all. I refer to the acceptance, understanding and absorption of physical and mental illness or disability within all of our communities, and the challenges that we face every day.
That is in the next chapter though, so some readers may well wish to ignore the discussion therein or, quite understandably, look the other way. Areas such as the perception, recognition and social integration of physical disability will be discussed, but also areas such as child abuse and paedophilia, so I apologise, most sincerely if any offence should be caused. If I thought such areas could be ignored, or were of no relevance to how we live now, I would ignore such factors, but they are here, and seemingly here to stay for a very long time. So once again I advise everyone to tread with care.
- Right and Wrong: Learned moral or born with the knowledge? (brocrants.com)