Category Archives: Rights

Cecile the Lioness


No, not “Cecil”—that unfortunate feline whose death is the recent cause of a global (but undoubtedly faddish) uproar. Cecile, as in Mrs. Cecile Richards—the no less unfortunate president of Planned Parenthood.

This coincidental lexical similarity between the names of two major figures in separate, but heavily reported, current events is in this case more than a mere curiosity, for the apposition serves to illustrate a regrettable reality: a contemporary milieu which—if I may—doesn’t know its head from its ass, morally speaking. Though it is easy to over-generalize in such discussions, there is at least a prima facie truth to the morbidity lurking behind the apparent comedy currently unfolding in the media over the death of Cecil the lion. What is comedic is not the lion’s death, but the resulting overreaction (e.g., here and here); what is morbid is the relative quiet of those same incensed individuals with regard to recent footage (here & here) leaked from discussions with those in the upper echelons of Planned Parenthood and its affiliates, which at least appears to show them nonchalantly haggling over the price of aborted fetal body parts. Whether Planned Parenthood is guilty of such allegations is irrelevant to my point; for if they are even possibly guilty, then the case is worthy of our full attention. In any case, if abortion is in most instances but a particular brand of unjustifiable homicide—as it is in my view—then this latest scandal only renders more egregious the moral aberrations which comprise Planned Parenthood’s standard (and advertised) operating procedure. As aptly remarked by Brit Hume, these latest revelations have “parted the veil of antiseptic tidiness” behind which Planned Parenthood has couched its gruesome operation. But the real problem is not the sale of fetal body parts; it is that there are such parts to sell.

That a large segment of the population exhausts itself in paroxysmal fits over the killing of a large, if impressive, cat, yet barely manages to produce a stifled yawn over the killing (and possible sale) of human babies is nothing less than appalling. Jimmy Kimmel, while quite concerned to defend Cecil, has apparently not seen fit to devote any portion of his show to rousing the moral sensibilities of his audience with regard to the cavalier execution of underdeveloped children. Perhaps among his audience there are few such sensibilities left to rouse. I have no special distaste for Mr. Kimmel; I mention him as but one among a large swath of the population whose attitudes appear to confirm Francis Schaffer’s observation that what was unthinkable a short time ago has not only become thinkable, but commonplace.

Likewise, National Geographic, despite being a longtime advocate for the oppressed around the world, aired a regal portrait of male lion “in memory of Cecil” on its Instagram account, complete with an impassioned plea to stop the hunting of endangered animals—an entreaty any true conservationist could easily endorse. But when synchronically juxtaposed with the chorus of crickets surrounding the ongoing scandal at Planned Parenthood, signing a petition to “save the lions” is worse than hollow; it is evidence of a severe disorder among our moral priorities. If “lions are people, too,” perhaps it is time to remind ourselves of what ought to be a trivial truth: that “people are people, too.” To call this epidemic of moral confusion “unfortunate” insofar as it concerns the murder and mutilation of our young is an understatement on the order of calling Michelangelo’s painting in the Sistine Chapel “nice.”

It is in this vein that I have referred to Mrs. Richards as “unfortunate”: anyone who has convinced herself that an institution offering to screen you for cancer with the left hand and to crush your unborn child into pieces with the right is an important instrument in facilitating the common good is morally debased. Such a person is not to be hated, but pitied. I have no doubts that Planned Parenthood does provide services which are of benefit to various communities. Indeed, Mrs. Richards does not hesitate to remind us of this fact in an article—rife with euphemism of Orwellian proportions—that she penned for The Washington Post, lest we should undergo amnesia amidst all this malicious hullabaloo brought on by “the extremists.” Clearly, however, if abortion is the unjustified killing of a human being—and that is the issue—then there is no other healthcare “service” one may provide such that abortion is rendered morally justifiable. A single abortion is not made acceptable by performing a million successful STD screenings. Even including abortion under the “healthcare” umbrella is a sort of sick joke; for it does little for the health or the care of those aborted.

I wish to make one other point, and that is to register an observation regarding Mrs. Richard’s pejorative use of the term “extremists.” So long as they are willing to put forth an argument, two individuals might civilly disagree over the question of whether unborn humans possess an intrinsic right to life. But if the matter is epistemically unsettled (i.e., we do not know whether unborn humans possess an intrinsic right to life), then it is at least epistemically possible that unborn humans possess a right to life. If it is possible that unborn humans possess a right to life, then it is possible that killing them results in a moral transgression (i.e., it is possible that abortion is murder). In such a case, far from being an “extremist,” the person who maintains that unborn humans possess a right to life chooses the “safe” option; for if he is himself uncertain whether unborn humans possess a right to life, it is clearly preferable in the abstract to choose the option which is least likely to result in a moral transgression.

Moreover, if it is the deceptive methods used to obtain the footage in question that Mrs. Richards considers the criterion of “extremism,” I demur yet again. On the contrary, if a person believes that it is even possible that a moral transgression is taking place in the case of abortion, this is exactly the kind of activity in which he should engage. He should expose the practice for what it is. We laud (and ought to laud) the undercover operations of those involved in liberating women from the sex trade. Likewise, the person who sees abortion as a crime against human individuals has no recourse but to appeal to the moral sensibilities of his peers (if any remain) and to the Almighty. Even if we disagree with the conclusion of such a person, surely we must applaud his motives. Indeed, if an “extremist” is simply a committed abolitionist—someone whose actions reflect a serious commitment to ending the practice of feeding our children to the proverbial lions (or lionesses, as the case may be)—then I count myself among their number.

Tagged , , , ,

On Women in the Infantry

Credit: npr.org

Credit: npr.org

Given the current zeitgeist, that all-consuming vigilance by the Politically Correct for any perceived infractions of equality, the fact that women are now being considered for the infantry should come as no real surprise. Though current social and political trends have already laid a firm groundwork for such an effort (e.g. the recent repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy), it is nonetheless remarkable.

The Marine Corps recently asked the female lieutenants of a graduating class from The Basic School for volunteers to attend the Infantry Officer Course. Of the eighty eligible females, two stepped forward and were promptly admitted into the extremely rigorous course. The first lasted a single day; the second was dropped for medical reasons after about two weeks.

I have met one of these two brave women, and of the soundness of her motivations and determination I have no doubts; neither do I doubt her capability as a leader. Indeed, her willingness to even step into such an environment is worthy of admiration; for it is no secret that men in the infantry are largely hostile to the notion of women joining their ranks. It is not like stepping into a den of lions; it is like stepping into a den filled with men who kill lions for a living.

But this hostility is not unfounded, and I would count myself among the detractors from this new attempt at inclusiveness. There are reasons in principle against it, but having served in the infantry, I have also witnessed firsthand some practical reasons why the admission of women into the infantry is in my estimation unquestionably foolish.

The first is perhaps the most obvious–that of sexual attraction–which involves more broadly the issue of unit cohesion. This could be more generally be called the sexual dynamic. On my first deployment (Iraq, 2007-08), while stationed with about a dozen or so male Marines at a small Entry Control Point (ECP), teams of female Marines (Female Engagement Teams or “Lionesses”) were brought daily to our outpost to aid in searching the Iraqi women who passed through the checkpoint. For obvious reasons, men are not generally permitted to search Muslim women. The Lionesses’ ability to conduct the job assigned to them and the degree of their work ethic were, as is the case with Marines generally, very high.

However, I began to observe Marines, primarily those in the higher echelons of the pecking order present at the ECP, who were otherwise very professional, begin to act like utter fools in a very primitive and obvious attempt to impress the only American women they had seen in months. The constant attempts to woo female Marines were so blatant as to be almost unbelievable. In one particularly puerile case, a team leader deliberately threw a bottle on the ground within sight of some of the female Marines sitting at an outdoor table and ordered one of his subordinates to pick it up, presumably to demonstrate his qualifications as the alpha male.

While one might be tempted to dismiss this debacle as being only a personal immaturity on the part of certain Marines–which is certainly true, to a degree–the point is that these antics were simply the unrestrained result of an unavoidable biological attraction. As has been the case since the beginning of time, men and women are attracted to the opposite sex; and no amount of training, classes, protocols, nor professionalism can ever hope to change this fact. One may certainly be able to behave professionally in spite of a sexual attraction, but one cannot change the propensity to attraction; and it is the energies that must be expended to exercise such discipline that are potentially problematic, given the nature of the combat environment. To use a vulgar and admittedly imperfect analogy: one may train a dog not to eat a treat, but one cannot without great difficulty (and harmful consequences, besides) train a dog not to want a treat. Any readers tempted to complain that I have just equated men or women with either “dogs” or “treats” have missed the point entirely.

In speaking of the sexual dynamic, one need not think only of the explicitly sexual kind of behavior. Even if treated well, men and women naturally treat each other differently. It is important to note in stark contrast to the shrillest voices of the feminist movement that “differently” is not synonymous with “badly”. Men are naturally disposed to be protectors–specifically, protectors of women–just as women are naturally disposed to be protectors of children. In this regard, the presence of women on the battlefield inevitably produces an unhelpful dynamic, since men rightly experience a strong desire to protect women from harm. Thus, this predisposition would potentially result in a male Marine treating a female Marine differently than his male counterparts in the heat of combat for her sake; and in combat, one is rarely aided by additional variables.

This dynamic is especially aggravated in the types of environments inherent to the job of infantryman, where one is often forced to live in close quarters with very little personal space (if any) and at great length. This is a difficult environment in which to operate, and is only made more so by the introduction of the sexual dynamic. For example, when men living in such circumstances inevitably become irritated with one another, the most effective and efficient solution is sometimes the physical one; namely, a solid blow to the face. Two Marines may engage in a heated argument, come to blows, then in five minutes’ time resume their friendship, or at least a working relationship. Such bouts are infrequent and rarely personal. This is a relational dynamic unique to warrior cultures, one that has always struck me as both amusing and profound. Introducing women into this brutish but effective system is to beset it with unnecessary complication. A male Marine would not wish to strike his female counterpart, even in extreme anger; but he would wish that she were male so that he might. Interpersonal conflict resolution among infantrymen is usually of the more diplomatic sort, but women are (and ought to be) exempt from the possibility of this violent avenue of conflict resolution. Moreover, I seriously doubt any women seeking to join the infantry would even wish to be admitted into the full range of barbaric practices that come with the territory. Responding to a female interlocutor’s question, “Do you believe in the comradeship between the sexes?”, G.K. Chesterton once quipped, “Madam, if I were to treat you for two minutes like a comrade, you would turn me out of the house.” I think he was quite right: the notion that women can or would want to be in every way like “one of the guys” is unrealistic and absurd.

It is clear that there is no more physically demanding job in the military than the job of the infantry; it is equally as clear that women are, generally, physically weaker than men. This objective biological difference is precisely why the standards for men and women sometimes differ in the military. In the Marine Corps, for instance, women are required to perform flexed arm hangs in lieu of pull-ups for the Physical Fitness Test, quite simply because they are easier. Further, even given these lower standards, the rate of attrition for females in Marine Corps schools, such as Officer Candidate School and The Basic School, is drastically higher than that of males. As Marine Corps Captain Katie Petronio cites in her article, “Get Over It! We Are Not All Created Equal”:

“At OCS the attrition rate for female candidates in 2011 was historically low at 40 percent, while the male candidates attrite at a much lower rate of 16 percent. Of candidates who were dropped from training because they were injured or not physically qualified, females were breaking at a much higher rate than males, 14 percent versus 4 percent. The same trends were seen at TBS in 2011; the attrition rate for females was 13 percent versus 5 percent for males, and 5 percent of females were found not physically qualified compared with 1 percent of males.”

This is a consistent trend due to the unalterable biological differences between males and females, and it should be unsurprising to those without presuppositional biases to the contrary.

While it is true that there are some women who are quite capable of doing twenty pull-ups without breaking a sweat, perhaps even some capable of making it through a course like the IOC, some of these biological differences are unchangeable and yet significant. For example, the male skeleton is bigger, which provides an inherent advantage, since larger bones are generally stronger. Stronger bones are less apt to break. Males also experience muscle atrophy at a lower rate than females. In her aforementioned article, Captain Petronio attacks the inclusion of women in the infantry on the basis of physical longevity, citing from experience her observation that her male counterparts experienced physical deterioration at a slower rate than she in prolonged adverse circumstances. Naturally, in combat, physical strength and durability are factors of grave importance.

For exactly the same reasons that males and females in the military currently have segregated quarters and bathroom facilities, reasons as obvious as they are practical, women in the infantry would necessarily require additional amenities. It is in every way proper for women to have separate facilities, but in combat environments this is not always feasible. It is, however, a burden; and with women present, a necessary one.

I will forgo the list of potential physical ailments which befall women alone in the field, but suffice it to say the list is long–longer, I might add, than those which afflict men. Similarly, hygiene is a much more complicated endeavor for women. This is a significant logistical problem insofar as it concerns the need for certain types of additional medication and time to recover from medical problems that would otherwise be absent from a fighting unit.

There is also the issue of capture. Though rare, the matter must at least be considered. Despite the many horrible forms of torture an enemy fighter might be inclined to inflict upon a male prisoner, rape is rarely one of them; yet it is perhaps the most devastating, and history has proven it to be one of the first inclinations of depraved men possessing female prisoners. There are already circumstances in which female troops have been vulnerable to capture, even times in which they were captured (e.g. Jessica Lynch); but just what is to be gained by increasing their exposure and risk? I certainly do not think this matter alone is enough to prevent women from joining the infantry; it is but a small part of the cumulative case.

The central argument of the case for female infantry is that we ought not discriminate on the basis of gender. This is because gender is alleged to be an irrelevant factor concerning the infantry occupation. I hope I have given enough reason to suggest the naïvité of this view to those who do not already oppose it on the basis of common sense, but it remains to be pointed out that the military discriminates on the basis of unalterable factors all the time. For instance, pilots for certain aircraft cannot be taller than a specific height, due to the small size of the cockpit; yet, strangely, one does not hear of lawsuits calling for more accommodating cockpits. Absurd as this would be (though it would be on par in stupidity with a profusion of other actual lawsuits), a cockpit is a thing much more easily altered than the nature of ground warfare itself, which is exactly what would require changing in order to make the inclusion of women in the infantry a good idea.

Given that the presence of women among the ranks of the infantry potentially poses significant difficulties, it is quite relevant to consider just what role a woman might fill that cannot be fulfilled (in many cases more successfully) by a man. This suggestion will undoubtedly be unpopular, but unpopularity is a poor gauge of soundness. Women are indistinguishable from men in their ability to lead, solve complex problems, and, perhaps, even kill. It is not on these grounds that I express dissent, but on the basis of those that cannot be overcome by any amount of willpower or training; namely, those intrinsic to sex and biology.

Since there is no shortage of capable men for the job and no intrinsic female qualities beneficial to the infantry occupation that do not also come paired with serious detriments, one must wonder just what practical military benefit the United States seeks to achieve by seeking to include women among the ranks? America is a country of principles, but it is also a country that has historically been practical. To act solely on principle (especially on erroneous principles), is to act foolishly, particularly when it concerns delicate matters of life and death. Combat is intensely practical. It cares nothing for principles. It is a deadly dance of practical gamesmanship that the man acting on principle is certain to lose. Carl von Clausewitz noted–correctly, I think–that “war is such a dangerous business that mistakes that come from kindness are the very worst” (1). Indeed, it is kind and good to open the door for a woman, but it is something less than kind if on the other side is a battlefield.

Evidence of the pervasive perversion of equality in our day is that this essay shall be taken by some to mean that I think men and women are unequal. This is untrue. Men and women are equal, but not the same. Equality has to do with intrinsic value, whereas I am here concerned with practical differences. Thus, the fact that men are generally more suited than women for the unpleasant rigors and brutalities of warfare does not mean that men are better than women. It means that men and women are each better suited for different kinds of occupations. Given the nature of the job in question, one involving life and death and sometimes in the most adverse circumstances conceivable, these differences are not to be dismissed lightly on the basis of philosophical principles of political correctness alone, without compelling practical reasons in support.

The ACLU, being an organization devoted solely to principle, has recently filed a lawsuit seeking to remove all gender-based restrictions on combat occupations. While well-meaning, the ACLU’s attempts will certainly be thought laughably naïve by nearly all infantrymen who have experienced significant time in the field. Perhaps as a test case the NFL ought to welcome all willing female players onto its teams and into its locker rooms. I should be quite surprised if a single season were not enough to cure the participants of any previously ambitious desire to “hang with the boys”, or, likewise, to join the infantry. The woman who claims to want equal treatment with her male infantry counterparts not only will fail to receive it, but is ignorant of what she is asking. The front lines of the battlefield are devoid of women for many of the same reasons the football fields are: virtually no women have any desire to participate, and the ones that do are unqualified to play against men. If the idea of integrating women into the NFL is ridiculous (and it is), integrating women into the infantry can only be more absurd. Any women who readily acknowledge the difficulties their presence would create in the infantry, yet persist in seeking admittance on the basis of principle are disgracefully selfish–they do not have in mind the best interest of the country, but the attainment of their own personal goals.

The rejection of gender roles, or even gender differences, is the central tenet of the contemporary hard-line feminist, who either cannot accept the idea that men and women generally possess significant and objective differences, or, in the most extreme cases, thinks that women are inherently of greater value than men. To the former, I suggest a cursory reading of Gray’s Anatomy; to the latter, a hug.

But not all women seeking to join the infantry would call themselves feminists in either of these two senses. Some are simply patriots up for a challenge. As to their offer, I say, respectfully, “thank you, but no.”

Notes:

1.) Von Clausewitz, Carl. On War. Book 1, Chapter 1. 1832.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

On the Nature of Rights

In speaking with advocates of some social or political cause, often one need not wait very long before the central justification of it is unearthed: “Well, it’s our right, of course” – a phrase which is not uncommonly uttered in such a way as is intended to make the inquiring party seem at least a little foolish for not having recognized this apparent fact at the outset. There seems to be a tendency to appropriate the term “right” too capriciously, however, apparently in view of its practical evangelistic value in lending to a cause some moral import, yet often in the absence of consideration of what the term actually means. We are told, for example, that access to marijuana is a social right; that socialized healthcare is a human right; that abortion-on-demand is a woman’s right; and, in every case, we are told these things with the implication that anyone who infringes upon these principles is guilty of some real moral infraction. If such infractions are indeed possible, then it is clearly of value to attempt to understand just what is a right. It it the aim of this essay to investigate some considerations relevant to this endeavor.

Rights can be understood, generally, in two ways: natural (what one might appropriately call “moral”) and civil. A civil right is a protection granted by a government or state, in which the state is understood to be the highest authority to which one can appeal in the case of transgression; that is, it is a protection codified in law, applicable to citizens of a particular state, but which is not necessarily considered to be applicable universally (1). For instance, a land owner might appeal to the law in seeking to prosecute those trespassing illegally on his property. In this case it is his civil right, granted by relevant state law, to prevent unwanted persons from stepping onto his property (it is only “his” property by civil right, also; as opposed to being his by virtue of some transcendent claim to ownership). His appeal may be upheld in court, or it may be struck down. If it is struck down, the land owner may challenge the ruling; but in the case of what he deems an unjustified rejection, he cannot possibly hope to hold the government accountable solely on the basis of his civil rights alone, but must appeal to some transcendent Principle. The Principle to which he appeals may, practically, be a rational ideal with respect to some particular end (i.e. self-interest or some other purpose which may be either empirical or subjective), but to be “transcendent” is to refer to its universal applicability to rational beings with respect to some real ontological ground. (2)

If, in this case, such a Principle exists at all (the example is purely hypothetical), it must be understood to be a natural right. Such a right is “natural” in that it is intrinsic to every rational being (person), so that, while a state may recognize it by inscribing it into law, no state has the power either to create or to annihilate it. This is precisely what was meant by the writers of the American Declaration of Independence in describing certain rights as being “inalienable.”

In contrast to civil rights, natural rights are not law, but Law; that is, they are metaphysical and in every way as immutable, universal, and eternal as the laws of logic. They differ, however, in that they possess the component of duty, since, if such rights exist, every person is inescapably bound by a moral necessity to uphold them. (3)

Moral values are conceptual subdivisions of the Moral Law in its totality. A natural right is a moral value stated in the form of a protection. For example, justice, aside from considerations of its administration in particular cases, is universally regarded as a moral value (4). One might frame it this way: “It is always morally good to treat other persons at least according their deserts.” (I say “at least” to leave room for the values of mercy and grace.) Stated as a right, it might read thus: “It is every person’s moral obligation to act justly with respect to other persons”; that is, every person is protected (in principle, not in actual circumstances) from injustice by a transcendent Moral Law. Every natural right is framed in such a way as to make it a protection against transgression of some moral value.

But how can natural rights be understood to exist? The answer is, I believe, tied to one of the most fundamental questions of philosophy: whether or not God exists (5). “God” is here understood to mean the greatest conceivable being. If God exists, then he exists necessarily, by virtue of his own nature, in every possible world.

While one might appeal to something like platonic forms as an explanation of natural rights, it is my view that God serves as at least a plausible, if not necessary, ground for the Moral Law and, therefore, rights; for a Moral Law necessarily implies Consequence; that is, either reward or punishment for compliance or transgression respectively; and Consequence cannot be understood without respect to some Law-Giver (or else some brute platonic principle). Those incredulous of such a claim need only consider the nature of moral values in order to realize this fact. For instance, to use our previous example, justice is conceptually meaningful only in the context of persons. Imagine a state of affairs in which no rational beings exist. Where, then, is justice? Can inanimate objects be either just or unjust? What would it even mean to assert that justice exists as an entity in the absence of rationality? An attempt to describe the nature of justice without the context of rational beings, so far as I can tell, is incoherent; and if there is any conceivable state of affairs in which justice does not exist as a transcendent moral value, it, like any other moral value, is clearly not metaphysically necessary in and of its own nature. However, if one does affirm justice as being a transcendent moral value (i.e. part of the Moral Law), then in the absence of a philosophical presupposition to the contrary, one must regard some Person as at least plausibly being its ontological ground.

In a state of affairs in which no Moral Law exists (we will call this a materialistic universe), it is difficult to comprehend how there can be real universal moral indictments of any person whatever; for the existence of natural rights is the necessary fundamental justification for indicting individuals or states in any case where they are perceived to have transgressed the Moral Law (e.g. the Nazis) (6). The question, then, is whether it is possible, or even coherent, for a Moral Law to exist in a materialistic universe.

In such a state of affairs, there is only one place for the materialist to turn in seeking justification for natural rights: reason. Given that the principles of metaphysics we refer to as the Laws of Logic are understood to exist necessarily, it is the only realm which contains any potential for establishing a foundation for natural rights. This was Kant’s endeavor, to establish morality firmly on the basis of reason alone, such that one should “act only according to that maxim whereby [one] can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law” (7). This was Kant’s “categorical imperative.”

However, reason is itself morally neutral and can be used to justify ends that are morally contradictory. G.K. Chesterton, in his book, Orthodoxy, described this potential contradiction in the context of madness:

“The madman’s explanation of a thing is always complete, and often in a purely rational sense, satisfactory. Or, to speak more strictly, the insane explanation, if not conclusive, is at least unanswerable; this may be observed especially in the two or three commonest kinds of madness. . . . If a man says (for instance) that men have a conspiracy against him, you cannot dispute it except by saying that all the men deny that they are conspirators, which is exactly what conspirators would do. His explanation covers the facts as much as yours. . . . Nevertheless, he is wrong. . . . Now, speaking quite externally and empirically, we may say that the strongest and most unmistakable mark of madness is this combination between a logical completeness and a spiritual contraction. The lunatics’ theory explains a large number of things, but it does not explain them in a large way. The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason” (8).

Kant said that rational beings must be viewed as ends in themselves, and not merely as means to an end; but on what basis are we to suppose that, if empirical or pragmatic concerns are to be discounted, there is any such moral obligation to view rational beings in such a way? If I do indeed view other rational beings as ends in themselves and act accordingly, by what Principle have I done anything of real moral worth? In order to differentiate between Good and Evil, there must exist some Standard. This Standard is the Moral Law.

Empirical and pragmatic concerns must necessarily be discounted as possible ontological foundations for natural rights; for they are inherently arbitrary (or, at least, not metaphysically objective); and reason, as we have seen, fails to provide adequate justification for real moral obligation, since it is morally neutral and therefore incapable of Consequence.

Thus, if God does not exist, it is impossible to assert any meaningful appeal to some right or “higher” ideal than that which is given by the state, or that which is otherwise a convention. Indeed, in a materialistic universe, there is no ideal, whether moral or otherwise, which can be understood apart from, or above, convention; for in every case would the conception of morality owe its existence to a cause or an end that is not metaphysically necessary (i.e. it could have been otherwise). Yet, any natural right to which one may make a meaningful appeal is inextricably tied to an ontological ground which is metaphysically necessary (e.g. God). For example, given materialism, a belief that rape is morally good cannot be disputed except by appeal to civil law, pragmatism (i.e. it hinders some subjective goal, such as human “well-being”), or outright opinion, each of which is inherently arbitrary. An appeal to apparently universal tendencies or beliefs supposedly invested in humans by natural selection might form the basis for an appeal to objectivity, but not necessity, and certainly not Goodness; for evolution could potentially have invested humans with moral beliefs in direct contradiction to those we currently possess.

Natural rights, then, are only reasonably grounded in God. To summarize, the argument may be formulated thus:

1.) God is the only explanation for the Moral Law

2.) Natural rights only exist if there is a Moral Law

3.) Natural rights exist.

4.) Therefore, God exists.

Now, given that rights are always stated in the form of a protection against moral transgression, how might an appeal to, say, universal healthcare as a natural right be formulated? (We must assume that such appeals are made on the basis of natural, rather than civil rights in the effort to achieve legal change, since it is impossible to appeal to civil rights which do not yet exist.)

1.) Persons possess a natural right to live.

2.) One’s health is directly related to one’s ability to live.

3.) Therefore, every person is morally obligated to contribute to every other person’s health. (This is, presumably, the guiding principle of proponents of universal healthcare, though it is clearly impossible for practical reasons to contribute to literally every person’s health.)

One need not consider this argument long before hitting upon several significant problems (though, perhaps the argument could be better formulated). First, to claim moral obligation with respect to something as unquestionably vague as another person’s “health” is quite a slippery slope indeed; for one could quite easily make a case for how just about anything could contribute to some facet of a person’s health. Second, given that contributing to another person’s health would require some positive action on my part; namely, providing financial support, it makes itself out to be not a protection from transgression, but a veritable enslavement. That is to say, one is alleged to have violated the Moral Law by not actively contributing to another person’s health. One might illustrate the insanity of such reasoning by any number of examples.

For instance, if we grant that the right to life is indeed a natural right, one can easily make a case for a right to self-defense. In the American Constitution, this right is recognized in the form of the 2nd Amendment (the right to bear arms) (9). However, an extrapolation analogous to that used to justify universal healthcare would suggest that other people are morally obligated to in some way contribute to my ability to defend myself; namely, by providing, or paying for, effective armament of some sort. Citing the police force or the military as such a contribution would be incorrect; for they do not and cannot cover every situation in which I would require self-defense as thoroughly as universal healthcare would, at least theoretically, regarding my health. For example, if I have a natural right to life, I have a natural right to defend myself in any situation in which my life is being threatened without just provocation. The police cannot possibly hope to protect me in every such situation or even in the majority of such scenarios. However, universal healthcare is supposed to apply to any and every situation in which my health requires attention, even to those aspects of “health” as remote as contraception. Therefore, in order to bridge the gap between the potential protection of my life by the police and the much more likely case that my self-defense will depend on some means directly available to me (e.g. firearm, tazer, knife, etc), one is forced to admit (if consistency is to be valued) that the public is under moral obligation to in some way contribute to my ability to defend myself. In other words, one has broken the Moral Law if they do not either pay for my armament or provide it directly. Also, in view of the specific provisions of the recent Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which levies a tax upon those refusing to purchase the government’s flavor of healthcare, should one be taxed, according to our previous example, for not contributing to every citizen’s personal armament? This is manifest nonsense; yet it is but the consistent application of the arguments implied by the movement to achieve universal healthcare.

Clearly, the example of the appeal to universal healthcare as a natural right, if I have accurately described it, is absurd and in no way such a right as they are generally understood to exist. The common trend of exchanging the word “privilege” for “right” owes its explanation, in my opinion, both to a genuine ignorance as to the very meaning of the word “right” (and how it differs from “privilege”), and to a recognition of the fact that one is only likely to get what one wants by use of the latter. The use of the term in the context of healthcare is but one example of its unscrupulous appropriation.

Thus, we have seen some general considerations, at least, of the nature of rights, though I have only but scratched the surface of the subject. In view of the frequency with which appeals to rights of any sort are made, we would do well to inquire of those from whom such appeals originate as to just what is meant. Indeed, in doing so we shall in some cases find that the word “right” is but one of many terms bandied about thoughtlessly for the purpose of personal or political gain. However, for those interested in truth and honesty and consistency, a more careful approach is warranted.

Notes:

1.) A civil law may be a natural right, by virtue of having been officially recognized (but not created) by the state, but in such a case the duty to uphold the law must necessarily find its ontological ground in something that transcends the state (i.e. the Moral Law).

2.) An “ontological ground” is that to which any thing, whether physical or metaphysical, owes its existence by virtue of an explanation of its being; that is, its foundation in reality.

3.) That is morally necessary which must be affirmed by the will (the disposition of the will is formed prior to, or at least simultaneous with action) or else incur fault in transgressing some real Moral Law to which all persons are beholden. There can be no such moral necessity, or duty, if there is no Moral Law, but only subjective inclination, the formation of which is shaped by arbitrary (not universally binding) criteria (e.g. a person may regard cruelty to children as evil, but in the absence of a Moral Law, his belief is as arbitrary as the cause of his belief, which may owe its being to genetics, social convention, or some pragmatic end).

4.) I would maintain that justice is universally regarded as a moral value because it is, in reality, a moral value; and not simply the product of an evolutionary or social mechanism (a convention).

5.) Leibniz declared the most fundamental question of philosophy to be: “Why is there something rather than nothing?” However, if God exists at all, he exists necessarily, such that it is literally meaningless to ask “why” God exists. Therefore, to ask whether or not God exists is, in effect, but to put forth another formulation Leibniz’s question.

6.) Curiously, (though not, in my view, surprisingly), even those that decry the existence of the Moral Law appeal to it, in many cases simultaneously with their denunciation and without the slightest hesitation.

7.) Kant, Immanuel; translated by James W. Ellington [1785] (1993). Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals 3rd ed., Hackett. pp. 30.

8.) Chesterton, G.K., Orthodoxy, Norwood, MA: Pumpion, 1908.

9.) It is worth noting that there is no such Constitutional Amendment regarding universal healthcare.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

A Matter of Common Decency

As those of you who keep an ear to the ground are by now well aware, there is currently a considerable buzz over the Cordoba Institute’s plans to build a mosque and community center two blocks from Ground Zero. The plans, headed by Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, are to turn the old Burlington Coat Factory building into a mosque, museum, and Islamic cultural center, costing upwards of $100 million. It seems unlikely anyone would dispute calling the plans to build such a facility so close to the site of the 9/11 attacks “ambitious,” but many would prefer the term “galling.”

The memory of 9/11 is still fresh in the minds of many Americans, particularly those who lost a friend or family member in the attacks, and it seems a blatant insult, a breach of common decency, even, to erect a structure of this nature in such proximity to the place where thousands died at the hands of Muslim extremists (or fundamentalists, depending on who you ask).

Those in favor of the mosque’s construction claim that the First Amendment protects the Cordoba Institute’s right to proceed with its plans. Indeed it does. What the First Amendment fails to do, however, is nullify the ill effects the construction of the mosque would undoubtedly produce. The First Amendment mantra has been so oft-repeated in defense of the most abrasive (abusive?) actions that those touting it have apparently become callous to the grave insensitivity of their words and deeds. This seems as true in this case as in the abhorrent protests of military funerals by the notorious Westboro Baptist Church. There is, in the minds of these “First Amendmentists,” if you will, a sense that “if it’s legal, it’s right.” Of course, for any person who believes in a morality transcendent of law, this is absurd (assuming sensitivity to the feelings of others is considered a virtue), but I digress.

It can be taken as certain that if the “Ground Zero Mosque,” as it has been called, is completed Muslims all around the world, and especially those responsible for 9/11, will regard it as a victory for Islam. For any Muslim who supported the attack, whether openly or privately, it will be an unquestionable stamp of divine approval to have a 13-story mosque tower over the rubble of what was formerly a powerful symbol of the West’s success. Mr. Rauf has condemned the terrorist attacks, but the sincerity of his condemnation seems inversely proportional to his committment to proceed with the project against the wishes of those still grieving the attacks.

In light of the commonplace over-emphasis on political correctness these days, the amount of surprise I would express in learning that the mosque had been completed in the future would be…well, low. However, there is a not-so-subtle irony in the fact that only in a country where the freedoms of its citizens are valued could an undertaking such as this occur. I’m thinking of something quite different, of course, than the Islamic states in which Sharia law is legally enforced, where even verbal dissent from Islamic doctrines is met with punishments that make a Quentin Tarantino film look tame. Respect for views contrary to one’s own is a virtue seen only Islamic countries in which the fire of liberty has begun to kindle a flame bright enough to scorch the stiflingly oppressive traditions held by Muslims for hundreds of years. Such tolerance is unlikely the product of scholarly exegesis of the Qur’an or Hadith. If it were, it seems Muslims for the past several hundred years must have either failed to get the memo or manifestly ignored it. Yet Mr. Rauf will piggyback on the very principles of liberty and freedom absent in most Islamic states in order to advance a religion that detests them! I don’t blame him (who wouldn’t take advantage of such a great opportunity?), but I can’t decide whether to regard the move as cunning or appalling. I suppose it could be both.

Seeing as the construction of a mosque in this context is only possible under the freedoms protected by our Constitution, it would seem appropriate for Mr. Rauf to encourage the propagation of similar freedoms abroad in Islamic countries as an act of reciprocity. The chances of this occurring, however, are vastly outweighed by the likelihood that Mr. Rauf’s true desire, whether or not it is publicly espoused, is to see the world become an Islamic state, as do most Muslims. It is likely his current proclamations enjoining peaceful interactions between Muslims and non-Muslims are simply the most effective means to advance Islam in the current American context, whether or not there is at the heart of his message a true desire to see views contrary to Islam ultimately protected by law.

Mr. Rauf has been hailed as a moderate for his emphasis on peaceful co-habitation of Islam and other faiths, and he has even attempted to quell the uneasiness by reminding us that the center will house a memorial to those who died on 9/11, but there is nothing moderate about his insistence on continuing with a project that he surely knows will strike many as a barefaced assertion of Islamic power.

In the words of Mr. Rauf’s wife, Daisy Khan, who is the head of the American Society for Muslim Advancement (ASMA), “Only in New York City is this possible.”

I hope she’s right.

Tagged , , , , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: